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Impulsivity impacts teen smoking: study

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver



Impulsivity is the most likely personality trait a teenager will exhibit in deciding whether or not to start smoking, according to University of B.C. researchers.

In the recently published study, UBC researchers Jasmina Memetovic and Chris Richardson went and found out how many teens in B.C. were likely to consider smoking in the future.

In a survey, they found about 5% of the group of 1,231 Grade 8 and 9 students — all of whom don’t currently smoke — said they’d “probably” consider smoking in the future.

The team then posed a series of questions to the teens in an attempt to find out how severely the teens were affected by personality traits like impulsivity, sensation seeking behaviour, hopelessness or anxiety.

For example, to determine impulsivity, teens who would consider smoking were more likely to agree with statements like “I often don’t think before I speak.”

As a measure, Memetovic said those teens who scored 27% higher in impulsivity compared to their typical peer were 23% more likely to want to try smoking in the future.

Teens who felt higher degrees of hopelessness, and to a lesser degree, those who were sensation seekers, were also more likely to take up smoking compared to their peers.

Hopelessness, Memetovic said, is often associated with depression and teens would be asked, for example, whether they felt happy. Sensation seekers, meanwhile, were more likely to answer yes to questions like whether they’d enjoy skydiving or hiking in uninhabited areas.

“Impulsivity ... could be related to the ability to handle situations where you’re presented with the ability to smoke and your ability to decline in that situation and think about the consequences,” Memetovic said.

“If a person has higher levels of hopelessness, they may see themselves as likely to try smoking in the future as perhaps a coping mechanism.

“With sensation seeking, it’s more about the experience, the novelty. It’s the desire to try new things ... saying, ‘Oh yeah, I could totally see myself trying that at a party.’”

Anxiety, meanwhile, didn’t have any significant impact on a teens’ likelihood to consider smoking, the researchers found.