Use of Cigarettes and Alcohol by Preschoolers While Role-playing As Adults

The Study

Children form attitudes about smoking and drinking at a very young age, picking up many cues about cigarettes and alcohol from their parents, according to a behavioral study conducted at Dartmouth.  The results, published in the September 5 Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, demonstrate that preschool-aged children are cued in to the use of tobacco and alcohol in adult social lives.

Children ages two through six used adult dolls to purchase items from a miniature grocery store in preparation for an evening with friends.  The store was stocked with 73 different miniature products including vegetables, meat, fruit, candy, milk, desserts, medicine, cereal, cigarettes, beer and wine. Cigarettes and alcohol accounted for 11% of the total items in the store. The children purchased an average of 17 products.

Researchers confirmed that the children knew what they were buying by asking them to identify each of the products as they placed them on the check-out counter. Cigarettes and alcohol were only counted if the children identified them correctly or still decided to buy it after it was correctly identified by the store’s “cashier.”  Terms such as “booze,” “Daddy’s juice,” and “smokes,” were counted.

The Findings

Of the 120 children in the study, 62% bought alcohol and 28% bought cigarettes. Children were more likely to buy cigarettes if their parents smoked and more likely to buy alcohol if their parents drank more than once a month.


This study demonstrates that young children are aware of the role that tobacco and alcohol play in adult social lives and that the process of “initiation,” which typically involves shifts in attitudes and expectations about behavior, begins as young as three years of age. The results from this study suggest that alcohol and tobacco prevention efforts may need to begin for children and their parents at a younger age. To read more about this study, see the abstract of the findings at