Reliability of self-reported smoking history and age at initial tobacco use

Prev Med. 2005 Aug;41(2):646-50. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2005.01.011.


Background: Many studies use questionnaires to determine smoking status and age of smoking onset. This study aimed to determine the reliability of self-reported smoking history and age of smoking initiation.

Method: The proportion of inconsistent answers and correlation coefficients of reported age of initial smoking were measured by an answer-reanswer analysis of questionnaires in an ongoing, two-step, population-based survey of health behavior. Interviews were conducted on the day of recruitment to and the day of discharge from mandatory military service in Israel among a sample of 25,437 young men and women recruited between 1986 and 2000.

Results: Of 7276 participants reporting current or past smoking upon recruitment, 559 (7.7%) reported never having smoked upon discharge, thus demonstrating prima facie inconsistency. Variables significantly associated with reliable reporting in a multivariate logistic regression model were female gender (P = 0.04) and more than 4 years of military service (P < 0.01). 6010 subjects who reported a positive smoking history at both recruitment and discharge were available for analysis of reliability of reported age at smoking onset. Intraclass correlation coefficients for recruitment/discharge consistency in reported age at first cigarette were 0.73 (95% CI: 0.71-0.74) and 0.76 (95% CI: 0.74-0.78) for men and women, respectively. Eastern origin, lower subject education level, and lower paternal education level were also associated with lower reliability.

Conclusions: Our results showed a relatively high level of answer-reanswer reliability, with some variance attributable to personal characteristics. These results suggest that self-reported age at onset of tobacco use is practical and reliable in normative, young adult populations. However, time elapsed between questionnaires and demographic and lifestyle characteristics may affect reliability rates, and thus should be carefully regarded in future studies.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Humans
  • Israel / epidemiology
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Military Personnel
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*