Background: Peers influence adolescent and young adult smoking, but little is known about the underlying mechanisms. It is necessary to understand whether the current assumption of peer pressure is valid, or whether an alternative explanation as imitation is more appropriate. We examined whether passive (imitation) and/or active (pressure) peer influence affects young adult smoking.
Methods: An experiment was conducted among 68 daily-smoking students aged 16-24. The actual study aim was masked. Participants had to do a 30-min music task with a confederate. The experiment consisted of a 2 (smoking condition: confederate smokes or not) by 2 (pressure condition: confederate offers the participant a cigarette or not) factorial design, resulting in four conditions: (1) no smoking and no pressure (N=15); (2) smoking but no pressure (N=16); (3) pressure but no smoking (N=20); and (4) smoking and pressure (N=17). The primary outcome tested was the total number of cigarettes smoked during this music assignment.
Results: Peer smoking significantly predicted the total number of cigarettes smoked by young adults while peer pressure did not. The interaction effect of peer pressure and peer smoking was not significant.
Conclusions: Peer pressure did not have a significant additional contribution, over and above smoking of the peer. Passive (imitation) peer influence affected young adult smoking rather than active (pressure) peer influence. Thus, smoking cessation efforts should aim at preventing interaction with smoking peers and raising awareness about its impact.
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