"What we found is that social influence matters. It leads nonsmoking friends into smoking and nonsmoking friends can turn smoking friends into nonsmokers," said Steven Haas, an associate professor of sociology and demography at Pennsylvania State University in US.

However, the impact is asymmetrical, the tendency for adolescents to follow their friends into smoking is stronger, Haas explained.

There are a number of reasons why peer influence to start smoking is stronger than peer influence to quit. "In order to become a smoker, kids need to know how to smoke, they need to know where to buy cigarettes and how to smoke without being caught, which are all things they can learn from their friends who smoke," Haas noted.

But nonsmoking friends are unlikely to have access to nicotine replacement products or organized cessation programmes to help their friends quit. The findings may also apply to other aspects of adolescent behaviour.

"This may apply well beyond smoking; there may be similar patterns in adolescent drinking, drug use, sex, and delinquency." Haas said, adding.

The study appeared in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.


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