Preventing Smoking Progression in Young Adults: the Concept of Prevescalation

Andrea C. Villanti, Raymond S. Niaura, David B. Abrams, Robin Mermelstein

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


As adolescents cross the threshold to young adulthood, they encounter more opportunities to engage in or accelerate previously discouraged or prohibited behaviors. Young adults, therefore, are more apt to initiate cigarette smoking and, more importantly, to accelerate their use if they tried and experimented as an adolescent. Preventing the escalation and entrenchment of smoking in the young adult years is critically important to reducing tobacco’s long-term health toll. However, traditional interventions for youth have focused on preventing smoking initiation, and interventions for adults have focused on smoking cessation; both have failed to address the needs of young adults. We introduce the concept of “prevescalation” to capture the need and opportunity to prevent the escalation of risk behaviors that typically occur during young adulthood, with a focus on the example of cigarette smoking. Prevescalation negates the notion that prevention has failed if tobacco experimentation occurs during adolescence and focuses on understanding and interrupting transitions between experimentation with tobacco products and established tobacco use that largely occur during young adulthood. However, since risk behaviors often co-occur in young people, the core concept of prevescalation may apply to other behaviors that co-occur and become harder to change in later adulthood. We present a new framework for conceptualizing, developing, and evaluating interventions that better fit the unique behavioral, psychosocial, and socio-environmental characteristics of the young adult years. We discuss the need to target this transitional phase, what we know about behavioral pathways and predictors of cigarette smoking, potential intervention considerations, and research challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-384
Number of pages8
JournalPrevention Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 15 2019


  • Prevention
  • Smoking progression
  • Young adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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