CNC helps shed light on young people’s use of cigarettes and alcohol

Very few of you had tried smoking or drinking alcohol when we visited you at age 11.

However, those who had experienced a parent leaving the family home before the age of 7 were more likely to have tried cigarettes or alcohol by the time you started secondary school.

Researchers from University College London analysed information from almost 11,000 CNC study members. They found that more than a quarter of you had at least one absent parent by age 7. This could be because a parent passed away, or for another reason, such as parents separating.

When you were age 11, we asked if you had tried cigarettes and alcohol. Eleven-year-olds with an absent parent were two and half times more likely to report that they had tried smoking, compared to young people living with both parents. They were also one and a half times more likely to say they had tried an alcoholic drink.

It made no difference which parent was absent – the mother or the father – or at what age the parents left.

Among those who had tried alcohol, children with absent parents were twice as likely to report having had enough to feel drunk.

Past research has shown that young people with absent parents are more likely to engage in risky behaviours in their teenage years. However this is one of the first studies to look at very early use of alcohol and cigarettes.

The researchers suggested there is a greater risk of diseases, such as lung cancer and heart disease, when people take up smoking at a young age. Young people are also at greater risk becoming addicted to cigarettes and alcohol when they pick up these habits early in life.