To our knowledge, previous research has not examined the percentage of adolescents reporting specific consequences subsequent to experimenting with cigarette use. Our findings complement literature on perceptions and motivations related to cigarette use. Over half of the adolescents in this study reported negative consequences of experimentation, such as a bad cough, trouble catching one’s breath, getting into trouble, and friends becoming upset. However, over half of adolescents reported positive consequences, such as feeling relaxed, looking cool or grown-up, and becoming popular. Forty-five percent of adolescents reported both positive and negative consequences of experimentation, in comparison to a third who reported no consequences and smaller groups of roughly 10% who reported only positive or only negative consequences, respectively.
As one might expect, greater levels of smoking experience were associated with greater likelihood of experiencing negative consequences. In comparison to adolescents who reported only puffing on cigarettes, adolescents who reported smoking whole cigarettes were more likely to report any negative consequence of smoking, including having trouble catching their breath, getting into trouble, and having their friends become upset with them. Each increment in puffing or smoking experience was associated with greater likelihood of reporting negative consequences. This pattern was also observed with respect to adolescents’ experience of positive consequences. In comparison to adolescents who reported only puffing on cigarettes, adolescents who reported smoking whole cigarettes were more likely to report any positive consequence of smoking, including feeling relaxed, looking cool, and looking grown-up. Each increment in puffing or smoking experience was associated with greater likelihood of reporting positive consequences. We do not know when adolescents first experienced the consequences of smoking that they reported and whether they were still experiencing these consequences at the time they completed the survey. It may be that each increment in level of experimentation with smoking conferred a greater likelihood of experiencing positive consequences. Alternatively, those adolescents who experienced initial positive consequences of smoking may have been more likely to progress to greater levels of use. This latter interpretation is consistent with research showing that perceived benefits of smoking are associated with increases in smoking over time (Epstein et al., 2000
). Positive consequences of smoking may thus reinforce smoking behavior.
It is possible that experiencing positive consequences is more salient to adolescents than experiencing negative consequences, and that negative consequences may not be enough of a deterrent from smoking when positive consequences also occur (Slovic et al., 2004
; Slovic, 2003
). This interpretation of data is consistent with research showing that perceived costs are not associated with changes in risk taking over time (Parsons et al., 1997
; Tucker et al., 2003
) and that smokers view potential costs of smoking as less important than do nonsmokers (Urberg and Robbins, 1981
). Future studies should examine whether positive consequences of smoking indeed explain why adolescents incrementally increase their level of experimentation with cigarette use, and whether adolescents who experience positive consequences disregard concurrently experienced negative consequences.
In the present study, each increment in puffing or smoking experience was associated with greater likelihood of experiencing both positive consequences (i.e., benefits) and negative consequences (i.e., costs) of smoking. We can compare this finding with prior research from our laboratory that focused on perceptions of benefits and costs among adolescents. At the first assessment during the fall of 9th
grade, each increment in puffing experience among adolescents who had tried smoking was associated with greater likelihood of perceiving benefits and lower
likelihood of perceiving costs of smoking (Halpern-Felsher et al., 2004
). The distinction between perceptions
of benefits and costs and actual experience
of benefits and costs is thus important with respect to understanding adolescent experimentation with cigarette use. There may be a disconnect between perceptions and actual experience of costs among adolescents who are experimenting with cigarette use, such that adolescents acknowledge they experience costs but do not always adjust their general perceptions of the costs associated with cigarette use. Future research should examine whether there is a disconnect between perceptions and experience, and whether this apparent disconnect promotes continued experimentation with cigarette use and eventual habitual patterns of use.
The few observed gender differences in the present study suggest that consequences of experimentation may sometimes reinforce girls’ smoking behavior and punish boys’ smoking behavior. Among those adolescents who initially reported smoking whole cigarettes, each increment in smoking experience was associated with greater likelihood that girls, but not boys, reported looking cool and grown-up. Independent of smoking group (only puffed versus smoked whole cigarettes) or incremental level of smoking whole cigarettes, boys were more likely than girls to report getting into trouble as a result of smoking.
One limitation of this study is that our first assessment occurred when 53% of adolescents had already progressed to smoking whole cigarettes. In addition, we do not know whether consequences of smoking occurred after each incremental increase in level of experimentation, or whether those adolescents who experienced specific consequences increased their level of experimentation. Ecological momentary assessment techniques may aid in determining whether increasing levels of experimentation consistently yield additional consequences. Another limitation is that we did not assess all of the consequences that are relevant to adolescents’ decision making about cigarette smoking (e.g., hedonic effects such as a pleasurable rush or buzz). Finally, we did not have the sample size or number of data collection waves to test whether early consequences were associated with subsequent intention to smoke and actual smoking behavior.