Why Do Kids Smoke
by Ken Derow
Two of the most primal behavioral imperatives for all animals, including humans, are the instincts for self-preservation and reproduction of our DNA via our offspring. These drives infuse our behavior through our emotional, sub-conscious and affect our behavior in many ways. How does this affect the likelihood of a person's starting to smoke and their eventual likelihood to quit smoking? Well, children mimic their parents and friends in order to appear more "adult" and in order to facilitate their primal urge to have sex and reproduce their DNA. Taking up smoking may be consistent with our primal imperative as it may confer on the smoker a self-perception that they are powerful and dominant, two traits that most people (especially women) find attractive and appealing in a potential sexual partner and/or mate. However, on a conscious level, smoking today, for most people, is also a "turn-off," that is negatively associated with being an attractive and appealing mate. So, there is a conflict, between what some of us may feel consciously and our sub-conscious emotional self that finds the cues and signals of a smoker to have some positive associations.
How can we address, mitigate and work around this potential conflict about how we feel about smoking as smokers and as people who evaluate the suitability and attractiveness of a smoker as a potential mate. We can can counter the emotional sub-conscious appeal of smoking by enlisting and promoting the negative social consequences and impact on appeal and attractiveness of a smoker, a context that engages the smoker on an emotional and sub-conscious level, much better than the more remote, distant, unreal, and vague threats to our self-preservation via health-related warnings.
There is considerable science and basic research into human behavior and evolution to support this notion. Some of the scientific and research support follows.
In his groundbreaking book, “What Makes the Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite,” author David DiSalvo states that, childhood imprinting (from adults, other people, the media, etc.), is a major source of pre-existing beliefs and a powerful influence on our behavior as we consciously and subconsciously strive to be like our role models and those we admire and want to emulate.
In his breakthrough book, “Viruses of the Mind,” Richard Brodie makes a number of assertions that support my posting. Among them is the notion that human instincts evolved to support our survival, but, do not take into account the kind of world we live in today and the kind of products and substances now at our disposal that were not known, or available, in pre-historic times. Children learn much about living by observing and mimicking adults and adult behavior and habits. They know not, or care not, that these habits may be deadly in the long-run, if an adult engage in the behavior, that is enough for the child to internalize it as part of their emotional self, and, this includes attitudes towards smoking. It does not matter if the adults try to say that smoking is bad for people, if they smoke, their children are much more likely to imitate that behavior.
Mr. Brodie also maintains that the dual DNA originated drives of self-preservation and replication of our DNA, via our offspring, are paramount drivers of human behavior. Self-preservation is fostered and enhanced by our offspring’s learning and internalizing the behavior of their parents, even those behaviors with very negative unintended consequences, such as smoking. For many young people, smoking is a learned behavior, based on their observation of their parents, their friends, the media, celebrities and others.