Why do Teens Smoke and How Does it Impact Their Future?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3,000 young people become regular smokers every day, which means that 1 in 5 teens smoke cigarettes. The American Lung Association estimates that every minute four thousand eight hundred teens will take their first drag off a cigarette. Of those, about two thousand will go on to be chain smokers. The fact that teen smoking rates are steadily increasing is disturbing. Approximately 80% of adult smokers started smoking as teenagers.

j0178822Unfortunately, teen smoking is often an early warning sign of future problems. The CDC reports that teens who smoke are three times as likely as nonsmokers to use alcohol, eight times as likely to use marijuana, and 22 times as likely to use cocaine. Smoking is also associated with numerous other high risk behaviors, including fighting and having unprotected sex.

Clearly too many teenagers are smoking cigarettes, but what’s less clear is why. A new study just published in the Sept. 1, 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology indicates that the risk factors for youth smoking vary so much that interventions need to be unique to each individual. They found that the leading risk factors for smoking included use of alcohol and other tobacco products, having friends or siblings who smoked, having parents or teachers who smoked, living in a single-parent family, poor academic performance, feeling stressed, acting impulsively, and feeling the need to smoke. This covers such a broad range of reasons that adults need to try to address prevention in ways that are particular to each teen.

Here are some ideas for adults to use in talking to teens about smoking:

  • Understand the Attraction. To know what you’re dealing with, ask a teen how he or she feels about smoking. Ask which of their friends smoke. Listen closely to their answers so that you can tailor your prevention efforts to that teen’s particular concerns.
  • Once You Start, It’s Hard to Stop. Explain to teens that nicotine is addictive like any other drug. Most adults who started smoking in their teens never expected to become addicted. Also explain that nicotine is not just in cigarettes, but in all tobacco products. Smokeless tobacco, hookah smoking (smoking tobacco through a water pipe) and clove cigarettes are common alternatives sometimes touted as safe. Don’t let your teen be fooled.
  • Smoking Affects Health. Almost everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, emphysema and heart disease, but sometimes it’s hard for teens to see that far down the road. Try bringing the health consequences home to them with the short term consequences.  First of all, explain that our body does not need tobacco like it needs food or water, so the body often goes on the defense when it’s being poisoned resulting in many first-time smokers feeling pain or throwing up when they start. Additionally, smokers will almost immediately see these effects: bad skin, yellow teeth, bad breath, reduced athletic performance, and increased risk of illness to colds, flu and other respiratory illnesses.
  • Teach Refusal Skills. Sometimes kids just need to know how to gracefully get out of a peer pressure situation. Try role playing scenarios with teens to help them have confidence in saying no.
  • Do the Math. Smoking is expensive. Help teens calculate the weekly, monthly or yearly cost of a pack-a-day smoking habit. You might compare the cost of smoking with that of electronic gadgets, clothes or other teen essentials.
  • Be A Role Model. Teen smoking is more common among teens whose parents smoke. If you’re a parent, be your child’s role model and don’t smoke. Also be sure to tell your teen that smoking isn’t allowed. Your disapproval may have more impact than you think. Teens whose parents set the firmest smoking restrictions tend to smoke less than do teens whose parents don’t set smoking limits.

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