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Why has adolescent smoking declined dramatically? Trend analysis using repeat cross-sectional data from New Zealand 2002–2015


Objectives Adolescent smoking has declined in New Zealand and in many other countries since the late 1990s, yet the reasons for the decline are not well understood. We investigated the extent to which established risk factors for adolescent smoking (parental, sibling and peer smoking, and exposure to smoking in the home) explained the downward trend.

Design Trend analysis of repeat cross-sectional data from an annual nationally representative survey.

Setting New Zealand.

Participants Secondary school students aged 14–15 (n=398 221).

Outcome measure Regular (at least monthly) smoking.

Methods For each risk factor (parental smoking, best friend smoking, older sibling smoking and past week exposure to smoking in the home) we plotted prevalence of exposure, 2002–2015. Next, using multivariable logistic regression, we modelled the trend in regular smoking (expressed as an OR for year) adjusting for age, sex, ethnicity and socioeconomic position. The risk factors were added to the model—individually and collectively—to test whether they attenuated the OR for year.

Results Exposure to all risk factors except ‘past week exposure to smoking in the home’ decreased between 2002 and 2015. We observed a strong downward trend in regular smoking among adolescents (OR=0.88 per year, 95% CI 0.88 to 0.88, p<0.001). ‘Best friend smoking’ was the only risk factor that significantly attenuated the trend. However, due to circularity, this factor provides an unsatisfactory explanation for population level smoking decline.

Conclusions The established risk factors that we explored do not appear to have contributed to the remarkable decline in adolescent smoking in New Zealand between 2003 and 2015. Further research is needed to assess the possible contribution of factors outside our model, such as changes in the policy context, the social meaning of smoking and broader social and economic conditions.

  • paediatrics
  • preventive medicine
  • public health
  • epidemiology

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