An “Epidemic” Model of Adolescent Cigarette Smoking

David C. Rowe, Laurie Chassin, Clark Presson, Debra Edwards, Steven J. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The prevalence of regular smoking increases rapidly during adolescence. We applied modeling methods from the study of epidemic infectious disease to smoking behavior. Our “epidemic” models dealt with the process of transition among four states: nonsmoker (susceptible), trier (exposed), regular smoker (infected), and ex‐smoker (recovered). The best fitting model was one in which the transition from nonsmoker to trier was a social contagion process where nonsmokers contacted either triers or regular smokers. All other transitions were treated as constant rate processes in which a constant proportion of eligible individuals made the transition in a given year. The recursive equation model embodying these assumptions was able to predict accurately the proportion of adolescents in each state in Grades 6–11. Our results support a “stage” model of smoking, suggesting that different psychological and physiological processes are involved in the initiation of smoking than in developing a habit of regular smoking. A possible sex difference was found in the non‐contact transition between trier and smoker states, with the transition being more probable in females than in males.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-285
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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