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M. D. Anderson Launches Study of Smoking Patterns in Mexican-American Middle School Children

M. D. Anderson Launches Study of Smoking Patterns in Mexican-American Middle School Children
National Cancer Institute funds $2.9 million investigation
M. D. Anderson News Release 11/18/04

Researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center have launched an innovative new study to determine patterns of smoking in Mexican-American adolescents— why they begin smoking, how addiction sets in, what may help prevent their smoking and how to help these young smokers quit.

“Previous research suggests that Mexican-American youth are more likely to experiment with cigarettes than youth of other racial or ethnic groups, and are more susceptible to smoking than African-American or white youth,” says Margaret R. Spitz, M.D., principal investigator and chair of M. D. Anderson’s Department of Epidemiology.

The National Cancer Institute is funding this $2.9 million five-year study, a collaboration with the Department of Behavioral Science

“We are examining psychosocial, behavioral and contextual factors, such as school, family, neighborhood and the parents’ work environment, as well as genetic factors that influence susceptibility to smoking initiation and nicotine dependence in this population of urban youth,” Spitz says.

Researchers will enroll 1,300 Mexican-American youth (one individual per family) age 11 to 13 who live in the Houston metroplex.

Youth who participate will take part in

  • A survey assessing their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors related to smoking, as well as family and school factors affecting their susceptibility to smoking
  • Follow-up telephone surveys every six months for five years, and
  • A home visit by researchers at the end of the study to determine lifestyle changes that may have influenced the teens’ attitudes and behaviors about smoking

“Findings from this study will allow researchers to develop culturally appropriate school- and community-based interventions to prevent smoking initiation and help young smokers to quit,” Spitz says.

In addition to examining behavioral aspects of smoking, researchers will study variations in certain genes that are identified with particular smoking behaviors, she says. These two components will provide a foundation for developing the most appropriate intervention for youth who are at higher risk for smoking.

“We will explore how genetic predisposing factors interact with psychosocial factors to impact smoking status,” Spitz says. “We particularly want to discover whether genetic predisposition to smoking modifies the way social, contextual and psychological factors affect the transition from smoking experimentation to nicotine dependence.”

Spitz’ previous research demonstrated a possible heredity component to nicotine addiction suggesting that smoking initiation, habitual smoking and nicotine addiction may be explained partially by heredity.

For example, genetic variation may affect the rate at which nicotine (the addictive component in cigarettes) is metabolized, as well alter levels of dopamine and serotonin chemicals in the brain responsible for feelings of pleasure, which also affect smoking behavior.

However, investigators stress that family, school and other environmental influences can strongly impact smoking initiation and quitting.

“Parents often don’t realize how much their teens are listening to them,” says Alexander V. Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D. professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and an expert in teen tobacco initiation and cessation and co-investigator of the study.

“Even when youth are trying to act cool, they still are looking for guidance from their parents, teachers and other role models in the community,” he says.

This current study builds on the Mexican-American Cohort Study that the Department of Epidemiology initiated three years ago with funds from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.

For more information or to participate in the study, call (713) 792-8497.

Tobacco and Teens

  • Tobacco use among high school students declined from 34.5% in 2000 to 28.4% in 2002 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Cigarette smoking declined in each grade for 8th–12th grade students between 2002 and 2003. This follows several years of gradual decreases in cigarette smoking that began in 1996 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • In 2002, cigarette use by race/ethnic groups was higher among white high school students (25.5%) followed by Hispanic (20.5%) and African-American (14.3%) students (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Among U.S. high school students in 2003 (National Institutes of Health):
    • 53.7% of 12th-graders have tried cigarettes; 43% of 10th graders.
    • 24.4% of 12th graders smoked during the past month; 16.7% of 10 graders.
    • 15.8% of 12th graders smoked daily during the past month; 
    • 8.9% of 10th graders.
  • Among U.S. middle school students in 2003 (National Institutes of Health):
    • 28.4% had tried cigarettes.
    • 4.5% smoked daily in the past month.
    • 10.2% had smoked in the past month.

Background: Tobacco Impact

M. D. Anderson

  • Roughly one-third of M. D. Anderson patients receive treatment for tobacco-related cancers (M. D. Anderson).


  • Tobacco is responsible for one-third of all cancer deaths and is the chief avoidable cause of illness and death in the United States. Tobacco is responsible for one in five deaths in the U.S. each year, including cancer and heart disease.  (American Cancer Society)
  • Tobacco use causes more deaths annually than alcohol, heroin, cocaine, suicide, homicide, automobile accidents, fire and AIDS combined. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute)
  • In Texas, an estimated 9,670 people will die of lung cancer, and an estimated 10,470 Texans will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004. In the United States, an estimated 160,440 people will die of lung cancer, and an estimated 173,770 people will be diagnosed with the disease in 2004. (American Cancer Society)
  • Lung cancer kills more women each year than breast cancer. In the United States, an estimated 65,700 women will die of lung cancer in 2004, and 39,600 will die of breast cancer. (American Cancer Society)

Tobacco Use

  • Tobacco use is an addiction, not just a habit. Less than 6% of Americans who quit smoking for a day remain abstinent one year later. For those trying a single cigarette, 33 to 50% will become addicted. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute) 
  • The average age of smoking or smokeless tobacco initiation is younger than 15 years old in many countries, including the United States. Every day, more than 3,000 children and adolescents become addicted to tobacco. Adult smokers who die currently are being replaced by youths who begin smoking. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute)
  • Tobacco use is epidemic. About 25% of Americans (48 million people) currently smoke, and about one-fifth of U.S. high school seniors smoke. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute)

Costs: Social and Fiscal

  • Nationally, the number of people who die earlier than their life expectancy translates to more than 5 million years of potential life lost each year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Tobacco use costs the nation nearly $100 billion every year. The estimated annual cost for smoking-related medical care is $50 billion, with the cost of lost productivity and forfeited earnings due to smoking-related disability estimated at another $50 billion per year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center