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Acculturation, media, peers, parents and adolescent smoking

Institution: University of Southern California
Investigator(s): Jennifer Unger, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 1998 (Cycle 7) Grant #: 7PT-7004H Award: $213,511
Subject Area: Tobacco-Use Prevention and Cessation
Award Type: Integrated Research Project

Initial Award Abstract
When people move to the United States from another country, they begin to adjust to the culture and customs of the U.S., a process known as acculturation. Unfortunately, acculturation may have harmful health consequences. Previous studies of Pacific Rim adolescents (Latino/Hispanics and Asia Americans) have shown that those who are more acculturated to the U.S. culture are at higher risk of experimentation with smoking, relative to those who are less acculturated. There are several potential explanations for this increased risk. First, adolescents who are more acculturated may be more likely to have U.S. born friends, who may be more likely to smoke. Second, adolescents who are more acculturated ma have parents who give them more freedom, which gives them more opportunities to experiment with smoking. Third, adolescents who are more acculturated may be more likely to see and understand the pro-tobacco marketing that is so pervasive in the U.S.

This study will investigate the role of acculturation in the smoking initiation process. It will evaluate the extent to which peers, parents, and tobacco-related advertising may be responsible for the association between acculturation and smoking. In addition, this study will evaluate the effects of anti tobacco media advertisements on smoking among adolescents with varying levels of acculturation. The goal of this study is to determine why acculturation is associated with increased risk of smoking, and whether anti tobacco media can lessen this risk.

This study will use data collected by the other projects in this IRP. These data will consist of 3-year longitudinal data from Hispanic/Latino and Asian/Pacific islander middle school and college students in California. Middle school and college are periods of maximum risk of smoking initiation among Pacific Rim adolescents.

The overall goal of this study is to prevent smoking among Pacific Rim adolescents by understanding how peers, parents, and the media influence the smoking behavior of adolescents with different levels of acculturation. The results of this study will provide useful information for the creation of culturally relevant smoking prevention programs for adolescents and young adults in the ethnically diverse population of California.

Final Report
One of the most notable characteristics of California's population is its cultural diversity. Because California is so culturally diverse, it is important to develop smoking prevention programs that are relevant to adolescents of varying cultural backgrounds. Our previous research had suggested that the influences of peers, parents, and the media on adolescent smoking might vary across cultural groups. We also expected that these influences would change as adolescents and their families acculturated to the U.S. culture, acquiring the values, beliefs, and behaviors of the United States in addition to those of their culture of origin.

The USC Integrated Research Program was undertaken to understand ethnic and cultural diversity in adolescent smoking, and to devise culturally-relevant strategies for prevention programs. This specific project within the IRP focused on understanding the influences of peers, parents, the media, and acculturation on smoking among adolescents of diverse cultural backgrounds living in California.

This research has produced several important new research findings:

• Among Hispanic and Asian-American adolescents, acculturation to the U.S. culture is associated with a higher risk of smoking. One explanation of this is that adolescents who are more acculturated are more likely to spend time with friends who smoke, which creates a social norm tolerant of smoking and also increases their access to cigarettes.

• The nature of peer influences appears to vary across ethnic groups. Adolescents from the individualistic U.S. White culture are more likely to rebel against their parents' anti-smoking rules and to smoke as a way of asserting their independence. They tend to do this by associating with smoking peers and then beginning to smoke themselves. Adolescents from more collectivist cultural backgrounds, in contrast, tend not to experience this adolescent rebellion as strongly, and therefore are less likely to seek out rebellious peers and smoke with them.

• Adolescents caught between two cultures might be at extremely high risk of smoking. In particular, multi-ethnic adolescents (those who identify with two or more ethnic groups) appear to be at high risk of smoking initiation.

• A key objective of this study was to measure acculturation among adolescents, and to determine whether acculturation is associated with smoking behavior. However, acculturation turned out to be difficult to measure among 6`h-graders, who are still in the process of forming their ethnic identities and also have limited'reading comprehension. We developed a short acculturation scale for adolescents, validated it against other measures of acculturation, and administered it to 6`h-graders in California. Because the prevalence of smoking was so low in our sample, we did not observe an association between acculturation and smoking. However, we expect that this association might appear as we follow the adolescents into 7`r' and 8`r' grade.

• Parental influences on smoking appear to vary across ethnic groups. Parental monitoring (the extent to which parents keep track of their children's activities and whereabouts) was associated with a lower risk of smoking across ethnic groups. However, emotional attachment with parents appeared to be a protective factor only among Hispanic adolescents.

We plan to continue to follow these adolescents as they progress through middle school and high school, paying careful attention to the predictors of their smoking behavior and the effectiveness of our new culturally-relevant prevention programs. The knowledge gained in this research could be useful in helping educators and policy-makers design and implement smoking prevention programs that will be effective for the diverse Califomia population.