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Why Early Teens Decide to Smoke and Drink
Jie Weiss
Jie Weiss, assistant professor of kinesiology and health science, reviews survey results with Hetty Ha and Kevin Yang, two of the research assistants aiding her in a study on the processes young people — 12 to 14 years old — use in deciding whether or not to smoke. The study is funded with a $275,000 National Institute of Drug Abuse grant.
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 Drug Abuse.

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 2007.

“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 bad.”

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.

Media Contacts: Jie Weiss, assistant professor of kinesiology and health science, at 657-278-4388 or
Pamela McLaren of Public Affairs, at 657-278-4852 or


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