The study, published in the June 20th issue of BMC Public Health, looked at how the social climate in various schools affected the likelihood of whether students of both sexes smoked cigarettes at ages 15 and 16. Students at schools that communicated a sense of caring about students and encouraged students to care about each other were less likely to smoke.
Researchers studied 5,092 students at 24 high schools in Scotland. Of this group 39% of female students and 25% of male students smoked. The study looked at four different sources of information when assessing the schools' environments: student questionnaires, teacher questionnaires, school data collected from local education authorities, and finally, researcher's interviews and observations of the teachers.
The schools that were found to have the worst student-teacher relationships — measured by student, teacher and the researchers' own observations — had higher rates of smoking.
The schools that were found to have the worst student-teacher relationships — measured by student, teacher and the researchers' own observations — had higher rates of smoking. Schools that made a point of encouraging "caring and inclusiveness" in addition to academics had lower rates. When researchers took into account the more typical, individual issues, such as socio-economic and socio-cultural factors like spending money and whether both parents were in the home, the differences remained. For example, boys at affluent schools were more likely to smoke when relations between students and teachers were poor.
The researchers note that most anti-smoking public health campaigns focus on individual rather than on environmental — or school — characteristics, and that it may be time to rethink this model in order to effectively tackle teenage smoking.