Childhood self-control predicts smoking throughout life: Evidence from 21,000 cohort study participants



Daly M, Egan M, Quigley J, Delaney L & Baumeister R (2016) Childhood self-control predicts smoking throughout life: Evidence from 21,000 cohort study participants. Health Psychology, 35 (11), pp. 1254-1263.

Objective: Low self-control has been linked with smoking, yet it remains unclear whether childhood self-control underlies the emergence of lifetime smoking patterns. We examined the contribution of childhood self-control to early smoking initiation and smoking across adulthood.  Methods: 21,132 participants were drawn from two nationally-representative cohort studies; the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS) and the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS). Child self-control was teacher-rated at age 10 in the BCS and at ages 7 and 11 in the NCDS. Participants reported their smoking status and number of cigarettes smoked per day at five time-points in the BCS (ages 26–42) and six time-points in the NCDS (ages 23–55). Both studies controlled for socioeconomic background, cognitive ability, psychological distress, gender, and parental smoking; the NCDS also controlled for an extended set of background characteristics.  Results: Early self-control made a substantial graded contribution to (not) smoking throughout life. In adjusted regression models, a 1-SD increase in self-control predicted a 6.9 percentage point lower probability of smoking in the BCS and this was replicated in the NCDS (5.2 point reduced risk). Adolescent smoking explained over half of the association between self-control and adult smoking. Childhood self-control was positively related to smoking cessation and negatively related to smoking initiation, relapse to smoking, and the number of cigarettes smoked in adulthood.  Conclusions: This study provides strong evidence that low childhood self-control predicts an increased risk of smoking throughout adulthood and points to adolescent smoking as a key pathway through which this may occur

personality; self-control; smoking; tobacco use; longitudinal research

Health Psychology: Volume 35, Issue 11

FundersEconomic and Social Research Council
Publication date30/11/2016
Publication date online08/09/2016
Date accepted by journal27/04/2016
PublisherAmerican Psychological Association

Projects (1)

Childhood self-control and adult health

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