Teenagers are more likely to be influenced by the smoking habits of their close buddies than the societal norms, new research says. Researchers also found that popular kids are more likely to smoke than the unpopular ones.

The study involved nearly 2,000 students in the ninth and 10th grades in October 2006 and 2007. These students were asked about their smoking habits like when they started smoking, how often they smoked and how many of their friends smoked. The majority of students in the study were Hispanic/Latino.

Popularity was measured by the number of times a person was referred as a "friend" by the study respondents. Researchers found that popular students were more likely to start smoking earlier than others and were also more likely to become friends with smokers.

The perception of what their close friends were doing also influenced smoking habits of a person. Respondents were more likely to take up smoking if they believed their close friends were smoking. For students it didn't matter if many people on the school campus were smoking or not, their belief in their friends' smoking habits was enough to get them smoking.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that teenage cigarette smoking has dropped over the years. However, teenagers are now using tobacco in other forms like cigars and loose tobacco. Also, in recent years, there has been an increase in students who drink or do drugs at school.

"That we're still seeing this association more than 10 years later, despite marginal declines in smoking, suggests that popularity is a strong predictor of smoking behavior," said Thomas W. Valente, PhD, professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California (USC). Valente is the lead author of three other studies on this topic.

"Adolescence is a time when students turn to others to figure out what is important. These are four different samples, now, coming from different places - and the finding is consistent," Valente said.

The present study is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.