Having low peer status in teen years may increase a person's chances of becoming a regular or heavy smoker in adulthood, a new study suggests.

Swedish researchers from Stockholm University looked at data from more than 15,000 Swedes from birth to middle age, and interviewed 2,329 people once at the age of 13 about peer status at school and again at the age of 32 about their smoking habits.

Study results showed that the lower a person's status among his or her school peers at the age of 13, the more likely that person is to become a regular (less than 20 cigarettes a day) smoker or heavy (more than 20 cigarettes a day) smoker in adulthood, according to a study published in the journal Addiction.

Researchers noted that unlike past studies of peer status and health-related behaviors, the latest study used an objective measure of peer status, meaning that the students were not asked to assess their own status but instead nominated the three classmates they "best liked to work with at school".

Students with fewer nominations were assumed to have fewer friends and be less accepted and respected within their group.

Researchers said there are several possible reasons why low status children grow up to become smokers. 

One is that unaccepted students may come to believe in their low status, which may then affect future prospects and ambitions and influence their choices over their course of a lifetime, according to researchers.

An alternative explanation could be that people of lower status are more likely to adopt controversial behaviors like smoking while "favorites" conform to social expectations of good behavior.

Researchers explained that unaccepted adolescents might take up smoking in school as a way to gain attention or popularity in school, and then, because of nicotine addiction, continue to smoke into adulthood.

Researchers noted that anti-smoking programs in schools have proven to be more effective if they increase integration and foster acceptance among students and communicate negative attitudes towards smoking.

Researchers explained that not only would adolescent smoking be reduced if these anti-smoking programs are implemented, but the benefits gained from integrating marginalized (lower status) students could have wide-ranging positive influences on health and health behaviors into adulthood.