A substantial number of adolescents are current and regular cigarette smokers, and there is a need to better understand factors that contribute to smoking behavior during these years. Sensation seeking (SS) is one factor that has consistently been associated with smoking, but less is known about mechanisms that may explain this relationship.
The present study tested the hypothesis that high school students high in SS would report heavier cigarette smoking and that this relationship would be mediated by negative affect and by perceptions about the risks of smoking. Students (n = 1,688) participated in an annual survey of substance use and related attitudes and characteristics.
As expected, higher SS was associated with greater levels of past 30-day (odds ratio [OR] = 1.46, p = .004) and lifetime (OR = 1.37, p = .004) smoking, particularly for males. Multiple mediation models indicated that effect of SS on both 30-day (combined indirect effect z = 5.38, p < .001) and lifetime (z = 6.14, p < .001) smoking was mediated by both negative affect and risk perception.
These findings suggest a need for increasing the sensation value of anti-tobacco messages to increase their efficacy for high SS youth. High SS youth may also benefit from prevention efforts designed to teach healthy ways of coping with negative affect.