Information, risk perceptions, and smoking choices of youth
Conventional wisdom maintains that youths take risks because they underestimate probabilities of harm. Presumably if they knew the true probabilities, they would behave differently. We used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 to assess whether differences between subjective and objective probabilities that an adverse outcome to self will occur are systematically related to a harmful behavior, initiating smoking. We find that youths are generally pessimistic about probabilities of their own deaths and being violent crime victims. After smoking initiation, youths increase subjective probabilities of death by more than the objective increase in mortality risk, implying recognition of potential harms. Virtually all 12-14 year-olds know that smoking causes heart disease. The minority who believe that smoking causes AIDS are less likely to become smokers; i. e., risk misperceptions deter rather than cause smoking initiation. Messages designed to deter smoking initiation should stress other disadvantages of smoking than just probabilities of harm. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.
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