Young children are highly influenced by whether their parents smoke and drink alcohol, researchers said on Monday.
In a study of 2- to 6-year-olds, children who were told to "shop" for groceries for a hungry doll were four times more likely to choose cigarettes if their parents smoked and three times more likely to pick wine or beer if their parents drank at least once a month.
Children who viewed PG-13 or R-rated movies were five times as likely to choose wine or beer.
Of the 120 children in the study, 28 percent bought cigarettes and 62 percent purchased alcohol among the average of 17 products chosen.
"Children's play behavior suggests that they are highly attentive to the use and enjoyment of alcohol and tobacco and have well-established expectations about how cigarettes and alcohol fit into social settings," wrote Madeline Dalton of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, reports Reuters.
According to New Scientist, “Several children were also highly aware of cigarette brands, as illustrated by the 6-year-old boy who was able to identify the brand of cigarettes he was buying as Marlboros, but could not identify the brand of his favorite cereal as Lucky Charms,” says pediatrician Madeline Dalton, who led the study.
Although it is not clear whether the children were more likely to ultimately smoke or drink alcohol, the study provides “compelling evidence that the process of ‘initiation’ – which typically involves shifts in attitudes and expectations about behavior – begins as young as three years of age,” Dalton claims. The researchers comment that alcohol and tobacco-use prevention efforts need to be targeted towards younger children and their parents.