Perceived personal immunity: the development of beliefs about susceptibility to the consequences of smoking

Prev Med. 1986 Jul;15(4):363-72. doi: 10.1016/0091-7435(86)90004-6.


Students ages 10 to 18 were given the task of estimating the probability of four possible consequences of cigarette smoking: heart trouble, cancer, carbon monoxide in alveolar air, and breathlessness during strenuous exercise. Subjects made estimates for generalized others who smoke, for themselves as hypothetical lifelong smokers, and for their actual selves. Comparisons of generalized others with hypothetical self and of hypothetical self with actual self suggest that subjects engage in significant denial. Smokers denied their susceptibility more than nonsmokers for generalized others and for themselves as hypothetical lifelong smokers. Compared with nonsmokers, smokers admitted an increased likelihood of experiencing the consequences of smoking when they predicted for their actual self, suggesting some objective awareness of their increased risk status. Smokers saw themselves as highly susceptible to carbon monoxide and breathlessness. This lends support to the current focus on instruction about immediate consequences of smoking as being potentially efficacious in deterring smoking in youth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Air / analysis
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Carbon Monoxide / analysis
  • Child
  • Heart Diseases / etiology
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology
  • Probability
  • Pulmonary Alveoli
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / etiology
  • Self Concept
  • Smoking*


  • Carbon Monoxide