Childhood self-regulatory skills predict adolescent smoking behavior

Psychol Health Med. 2016;21(2):138-51. doi: 10.1080/13548506.2015.1077261. Epub 2015 Sep 1.


Cigarette smoking is the primary preventable cause of premature death. Better self-regulatory capacity is a key psychosocial factor that has been linked with reduced likelihood of tobacco use. Studies point to the importance of multiple forms of self-regulation, in the domains of emotion, attention, behavior, and social regulation, although no work has evaluated all of these domains in a single prospective study. Considering those four self-regulation domains separately and in combination, this study prospectively investigated whether greater self-regulation in childhood is associated with reduced likelihood of either trying cigarettes or becoming a regular smoker. Hypotheses were tested using longitudinal data from a cohort of 1709 US children participating in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics--Child Development Supplement. Self-regulation was assessed at study baseline when children ranged in age from 6 to 14 years, using parent-reported measures derived from the Behavior Problems Index and Positive Behavior Scale. Children ages 12-19 self-reported their cigarette smoking, defined in two ways: (1) trying and (2) regular use. Separate multiple logistic regression models were used to evaluate odds of trying or regularly using cigarettes, taking account of various potential confounders. Over an average of five years of follow-up, 34.5% of children ever tried cigarettes and 10.6% smoked regularly. Higher behavioral self-regulation was the only domain associated with reduced odds of trying cigarettes (odds ratio (OR) = .85, 95% confidence interval (CI) = .73-.99). Effective regulation in each of the domains was associated with reduced likelihood of regular smoking, although the association with social regulation was not statistically significant (ORs range .70-.85). For each additional domain in which a child was able to regulate successfully, the odds of becoming a regular smoker dropped by 18% (95% CI = .70-.97). These findings suggest that effective childhood self-regulatory skills across multiple domains may reduce future health risk behaviors.

Keywords: cigarette smoking; protective factors; psychosocial factors; self-regulation; youth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prospective Studies
  • Self Report
  • Self-Control*
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Young Adult