Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Adolescent's perceptions and expectations of parental action on children's smoking and snus use; national cross sectional data from three decades

Maria Nilsson1*, Lars Weinehall12, Erik Bergström13, Hans Stenlund1 and Urban Janlert1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Epidemiology and Public Health Sciences, Umeå University, S-901 85 Umeå, Sweden

2 Research Department, National Institute of Public Health, S-831 40 Östersund, Sweden

3 Department of Clinical Sciences, Pediatrics, Umeå University, S-901 85 Umeå, Sweden

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2009, 9:74  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-74

Published: 4 March 2009



Parents play a vital role as children develop tobacco behaviours. Many parents feel unsure about their possibility to influence their teenager's lifestyle. Knowledge about young people's acceptance for parental intervention could increase parental involvement. The overall objective of this study was to explore adolescents' perceptions and expectations of parental action regarding children's smoking and snus use, and whether they have changed over time. To see if there were differences whether the adolescent was a tobacco user or not the adolescents' tobacco use was followed; and described to put the findings on their perceptions and expectations of parental action in a context.


The study used a repeated cross-sectional design, reporting Swedish national data from three decades. Data were collected in 1987, 1994 and 2003 by a questionnaire mailed to homes, in total to 13500 persons. The annual samples, which were random and national representative, consisted of 4500 young people aged 13, 15 and 17 yr, 1500 individuals per age group. The sampling and data collection procedures were done the same way during each survey. Chi2- tests were used to evaluate differences in distributions.


Adolescents in all age groups became more positive toward parental action over time. In 2003, more then 86% of the adolescents, including both smokers and non-smokers, strongly supported parental action on their children's smoking by trying to persuade them not to smoke (94%), by not smoking themselves (87%) and by not allowing their children to smoke at home (86%). Both non-smokers and smokers supported the idea of parental action in a similar way. Reduced pocket money had a weak support (42%), especially from girls. Eighty-nine percent of the adolescents expected their parents to act against smoking and 85% against snus use.

Smoking was stable at 8% in 1987 and 1994 but decreased to 4% in 2003. In 1987 the snus use prevalence was 4% and in 2003 it was 3%. Snus users were mostly boys while few girls had done more than tried snus. More young people in all age groups had never tried smoking compared to the previous studies. In 2003 57% stated that they had never tried smoking.


Adolescent smoking in Sweden has decreased and the proportion who never tried smoking has increased. The results of this study show that a growing majority of adolescents support strong parental intervention to help them refrain from tobacco, but preferably not in a punitive manner. This finding dismisses the notion that adolescents ignore or even disdain parental practices concerning tobacco. Prevention strategies and interventions addressing adolescent tobacco use that involve parents can be improved by using these findings to encourage parents to intervene against their children's tobacco use.