Research on tobacco use among teenagers: ethical challenges

J Adolesc Health. 2002 Jun;30(6):409-17. doi: 10.1016/s1054-139x(02)00365-8.


Recent increases in adolescent smoking portend upcoming public health challenges as the majority of smokers initiate long-term addiction during youth, but experience major health consequences later in life. To effectively address this important teenage and adult health issue, critical research information and early interventions are needed, yet conducting tobacco research with teen smokers poses substantial challenges, including several ethical dilemmas. This paper reviews some of the ethical issues presented in etiologic and clinical treatment research addressing adolescent smoking. Common problems and possible solutions are presented. Issues of parent/guardian involvement, decision-making ability of teens, the need to maintain confidentiality are discussed, along with the specific problems of recruitment, compensation, and ethical challenges that arise in group treatment settings. Context-specific ethical adjustments and alternative perspectives are likely to be needed if we are to overcome procedural difficulties in conducting teen smoking studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Confidentiality
  • Ethics*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Patient Selection
  • Research / organization & administration
  • Research / standards*
  • Smoking* / epidemiology
  • Smoking* / psychology
  • Smoking* / therapy
  • United States