We use prospective data from the ongoing British Cohort Study (BCS) and Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) to: 1) document changes in the prevalence of childhood smoking onset; 2) assess whether broad historic shifts in key risk factors, such as maternal education, parental smoking, and peer childhood smoking, explain observed cohort changes in childhood smoking; and 3) evaluate whether inequalities in onset have narrowed or widened during this period. The children in these two studies were born 31 years apart (i.e., BCS in 1970; MCS in 2001), and were followed from infancy through early adolescence (n = 23,506 children). Our outcome variable is child self-reports of smoking (ages 10, 11). Early life risk factors were assessed via parent reports in infancy and age 5. Findings reveal that the odds of childhood smoking were over 12 times greater among children born in 1970 versus 2001. The decline in childhood smoking by cohort was partly explained by increases in maternal education, decreases in mothers’ and fathers’ smoking, and declines in the number of children whose friends smoked. Results also show that childhood smoking is now more linked to early life disadvantages, as MCS children were especially likely to smoke if their mother had low education or used cigarettes, or if the child had a friend who smoked. Although the prevalence of child and adult smoking has dropped dramatically in the past three decades, policy efforts should focus on the increased social inequality resulting from the concentration of early life cigarette use among disadvantaged children.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Medicine (miscellaneous)
- Clinical Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health