Background: Explanations of adolescent smoking often make reference to adolescents' beliefs that they are invulnerable to harm. However, empirical examination of whether adolescents do acknowledge risks. Further, few studies have considered perceived benefits in adolescents' behavioral decisions. This study examined perceived smoking-related physical and social risks and benefits between adolescents who have vs. have not smoked and do vs. do not intend to smoke.
Methods: Three hundred and ninety-five students (mean age = 14.0) completed a survey concerning their smoking experiences, intentions, and perceived risks and benefits of smoking.
Results: Adolescent smokers and those who intend to smoke estimated their chance of experiencing a smoking-related negative outcome as less likely than did nonsmokers and non-intenders. Smokers and intenders also reported the chance of addiction as less likely than did others. In contrast, adolescent smokers and intenders perceived the chance of experiencing a smoking-related benefit as more likely than did nonsmokers and non-intenders.
Conclusions: The data suggest that rather than solely focusing on health risks as a way to deter adolescent smoking, the role of perceived social risks and benefits in adolescents' smoking may be an additional critical focus for intervention. In addition, efforts should be made to increase adolescents' awareness of the addictive nature of cigarettes.