Objective: This study used the prototype/willingness model of adolescent health risk behavior to examine factors related to onset of smoking.
Methods: Two waves of data were collected from a panel of 742 African American children (mean age=10.5 at Wave 1) and their primary caregivers. Measures included cognitions outlined by the prototype model as well as self-reports of smoking by the parent and child.
Results: Structural equation modeling revealed a pattern consistent with expectations generated by the prototype model. The relation between contextual, familial, and dispositional factors-including neighborhood risk, parental smoking, and children's academic orientation-and the initiation of smoking at Wave 2, two years later, was mediated by the children's cognitions. Primary among these cognitions were the children's images of smokers and children's willingness to smoke.
Conclusions: Smoking cognitions mediate the impact of important distal factors (such as context, family environment, and disposition) on the onset of smoking in children. Perhaps more important, it is possible to predict onset of smoking in African American children as young as age 10 by assessing the cognitive factors suggested by the prototype model.