|Professor seeks answers on what
makes early teens decide to smoke and drink.
November 1, 2005 :: No. 63
It’s glamorous. It stinks.
It’s a way to impress friends. It causes cancer. It’s
grown-up and cool.
These are among various reasons teens and preteens
cite for deciding whether to smoke a cigarette for the first time.
The thought processes youngsters explore about smoking and drinking
— before they’ve tried either — are what Jie Weiss
is studying with a $275,000 grant from the National Institute of
A Cal State Fullerton assistant professor of kinesiology
and health science, Weiss already has conducted three pilot studies
and is collecting data this fall by surveying 2,600 middle school
students, ages 12 to 14 — a period when first-time cigarette
and alcohol use is prevalent — to learn what they think about
partaking themselves. Eighteen months after the first survey, “we
will test them again with the same questions, see if they answer
differently and whether they remained nonsmoking and nondrinking,”
says Weiss, who expects the survey results to be announced in summer
“We are looking at adolescents’ cognitions,
which may predict their behaviors,” says Weiss. In previous
research at the University of Southern California, she found that
teens and preteens in prevention programs who were told not to smoke,
along with the reasons why, still smoked anyway.
“They know it’s bad for them, but they
still do it,” she says. “So, if prevention is not successful,
we need to find out why they see smoking as attractive.”
Her survey initially asks students what they think
are the consequences of the behavior. For example, she says, “a
student may think, ‘If I smoke, people will think I’m
glamorous,’ or ‘It smells, and I’ll get lung cancer.’”
The final step, Weiss contends is more complicated: “We want
to know how important this perception of smoking is. They may say,
‘Getting more friends is good, but I don’t need more
friends’ or ‘I don’t need to pick them up by smoking.’”
By analyzing this adolescent thought process, Weiss
hopes to determine whether the data points to the possibility of
predicting drinking and smoking behavior in young people. The next
step would be “tailoring prevention programs that acknowledge
the attractive aspects of smoking and drinking to young people,”
she says, “rather than simply saying these habits are all
Weiss earned her doctorate from the California School
of Professional Psychology in 2002 and served as a National Institute
of Health postdoctoral fellow at USC for two years. She is a member
of the American Public Health Association, Society for Judgment
and Decision Making and American Psychological Association.
A resident of Fullerton, Weiss joined the Cal State
Fullerton faculty in 2003.
||Jie Weiss, assistant professor
of kinesiology and health science, at 657-278-4388 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Pamela McLaren of Public Affairs, at 657-278-4852 or email@example.com
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