Susceptibility is a specific term in behavioral science that refers to a youth's inability to unequivocally say "no" when asked if they would ever take up smoking. Susceptibility combines intention to smoke and peer influence, two of the strongest risk factors for experimenting with cigarettes. Research has shown that experimentation leads to dependent smoking and that most smokers start in their teenage years.
Lead author Anna Wilkinson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, is working with funding from the 1999 Master Tobacco Settlement and the National Cancer Institute to study smoking rates and risk among Mexican-American teens. A companion paper on the effect of smoking imagery in movies is also included in the December issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention
"Overall, Mexican-American youth report much higher experimentation rates than white American youth," said Wilkinson. "It is important to understand the risk factors associated with the progression from being a committed never smoker to an experimenter so that we can develop more effective prevention programs."
For five years, Wilkinson and colleagues followed 964 Mexican origin participants between 11 and 13 years old who had never smoked. Of those deemed susceptible at the start of the study, 43 percent reported experimenting by the end of the study compared with 15 percent of those who were not considered susceptible.
"Susceptibility was larger than any of the other known risk factors such as being older, having multiple school discipline problems, living with a smoker or even having a positive view of the effect smoking can have on your social life," said Wilkinson. "Our results suggest that tailoring smoking prevention programs by a youth's susceptibility status may increase the efficacy of prevention efforts among Mexican origin youth."
Wilkinson said further research would focus on what turns an experimenter into a habitual user. This research is part of a larger, population-based study of more than 19,000 Mexican American families being conducted at M. D. Anderson.