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Cigarette sales in the USA peak in the summer months, June through August.1 This finding prompted examination of data on the onset of youth smoking to determine whether a similar pattern could be discerned. In this letter we report data from the Development and Assessment of Nicotine Dependence in Youth (DANDY) study.2 The sample of 679 seventh grade students from the USA had a mean initial age of 13.1 years (range 12–15 years). They were interviewed every three to four months over two and a half years. Subjects were asked to provide dates for their first use of any tobacco product, and their first puff and first inhalation on a cigarette. Additionally they provided dates for the first time they smoked twice within a 60 day period (monthly smoking) and the onset of daily smoking.
All measures of smoking onset peaked during the summer months of June through August with the modal month being July (table 1). Thus, the onset of youth smoking parallels seasonality in cigarette sales. One might speculate that summer peaks in youth smoking reflect an increase in unstructured time and a decrease in adult supervision. Adults also commonly enjoy decreased structured time during the summer. It is interesting to note also that alcohol advertising expenditures are greatest in the late spring and early summer.3 This corresponds to a pronounced peak during July in self reported heavy episodic drinking among adults.4 Further research might explore the factors underlying these seasonal phenomena. Additionally, we would be curious to see if similar phenomena occur in the southern hemisphere.
Just as campaigns against underage drinking and drunk driving focus on periods when these activities may be greater, tobacco use prevention efforts might optimally be focused on the summer period of maximum vulnerability.