Campus: CSU Fullerton -- November 2, 2005
CSUF Researcher Seeks Answers to Why Early Teens Decide to Smoke
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.
Jie Weiss, assistant professor of kinesiology and health
science, at (714) 278-4388 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Pamela McLaren of Public Affairs, at (714) 278-4852 or