Grandparents’ smoking increases the risk of smoking in grandchildren

The example set by grandparents clearly makes a difference: if grandparents smoke, it is more likely that their grandchildren will also smoke.

Study results show that the grandparents’ smoking increases both the grandchildren’s experimentation with tobacco products and daily smoking. If a grandfather and a grandmother both smoke, an adolescent is three times more likely to start daily smoking compared to grandchildren who have non-smoking grandparents. The results are similar for both maternal and paternal grandparents.

The smoking habits of grandparents, parents and grandchildren were studied in the Adolescent Health and Lifestyle Survey, which has been conducted biennially at the University of Tampere since 1977. The survey questions on the smoking habits of grandparents were answered by 3,535 12–18-year-olds in 2013.

The association between the grandparents’ and grandchildren’s smoking is partly explained by the mediating effect of the parents’ smoking. However, the grandparents’ smoking was also found to increase the likelihood of the grandchildren smoking regardless of their parents’ smoking. About two thirds of the total effect of the grandparents’ smoking was explained by the parents’ smoking and one third was attributed to the direct influence of the grandparents.

Grandparents are role models just like parents

“The role of grandparents in grandchildren’s smoking and use of tobacco products has hardly been discussed, and researchers have not paid attention to this aspect,” says Professor Arja Rimpelä.

“As people’s life expectancy increases, the grandparents of ever more adolescents are still alive. This is different from the situation a couple of decades ago. These days, grandparents are role models as much as parents or friends,” Rimpelä says.

A source of motivation to quit smoking?

“The direct role of the grandparents’ smoking has not been highlighted before. It is great that researchers have now paid attention to this fact,” says Mervi Hara, the executive director of ASH Finland.

“Most grandparents are very close to their grandchildren, and bringing attention to the effects of their smoking might just provide the incentive they need in order to quit,” she points out.

ASH Finland is a public health organisation established to support policy measures which aim to get rid of all tobacco products and non-medical nicotine products.

The results of the study were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2016, 13(1), 74: Salma E. T. El-Amin, Jaana M. Kinnunen, Hanna Ollila, Mika Helminen, Joana Alves, Pirjo Lindfors and Arja H. Rimpelä: Transmission of Smoking across Three Generations in Finland

For more information, please contact:
Researcher Jaana M. Kinnunen, +358 40 190 1667, School of Health Sciences
Professor Arja Rimpelä, +358 50 569 8285, School of Health Sciences
Executive Director Mervi Hara, +358 50 460 2324, ASH Finland