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Member Research & Reports

Saint Louis Research Finds Chinese Male Teens Aren’t Smoking as Much Country’s Sky-high Smoking Rates May Start to Decline

Younger Chinese teenage boys are less likely to start smoking than those born longer ago, according to research from Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice and Chongqing University.

Jin Huang

[Photo: Dr. Jin Huang]

The trend is significant because nearly one third of the world’s smokers live in China. Two-thirds of Chinese men become daily smokers before they turn 25, with the vast majority starting the habit when they were between 15 and 20. By contrast, fewer than 4 percent of females in China smoke, which is why females were not included in the study.

“Even though the smoking rate remains high in China, over the last 25 years, the rate of adolescent males starting to smoke has gotten smaller by an average of 1 percent a year,” said Dr. Jin Huang, one of the paper’s authors and assistant professor of social work at Saint Louis. “Our findings suggest over the long term we might see reduced smoking rates in China.”

The paper, published in the February 3 online edition of the International Journal of Public Health, found that a male’s birth year and first cigarette are inversely correlated. Smoking rates steadily decreased, with those born in 1996 less likely to start smoking than those born in 1970.

Researchers studied some 2,400 males between the ages of 15 and 20 who were listed in the China Health and Nutrition Survey. They surveyed those who did not start smoking before age 15 from four different kinds of neighborhoods that ranged from less populated rural areas to large, industrialized cities.

They found that rates of first smoking decreased continuously among those born in 1970 to 1996. About 50 percent of teenage boys from large cities born in 1970 were likely to have smoked their first cigarette, compared to less than 30 percent of those born in 1990. Trends also decreased in other areas, with the likelihood of male teens starting to smoke dropping even faster in more densely populated towns in rural areas and suburbs of cities.

As they start to catch up with China’s large urban cities, these areas are ripe for growth and development and are gaining access to more social and economic resources, Huang said.

“Preventing young Chinese men from starting to smoke during these critical years is likely to substantially impact whether they develop a dangerous lifelong habit,” Huang says. “Our findings suggest that the rate when male teens start smoking may continue to decrease, particularly in neighborhoods that have the potential to become more urban.”

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