Teen Smoking: Recent Studies and Tips to Quit
When it comes to teen smoking, there is good news and bad news. First, the good news. A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the U.S. had the lowest smoking rate among 15-year-olds in the developed world, with 9 percent of girls and 7 percent of boys reporting that they were regular smokers. The National Institutes of Health reports that cigarette smoking is at the lowest point in their survey’s history on all measures for eighth, 10th and 12th graders. For example, only 2.7 percent of eighth graders describe themselves as daily smokers, down from a peak rate of 10.4 percent in 1996. Similarly, 11.2 percent of high school seniors say they smoke daily, less than half of the 24.6 percent rate in 1997.
Now the bad news. 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. So despite the decrease, there are still far too many teen smokers. And approximately 80% of adult smokers started smoking as teenagers. Another area of concern is the rate of smokeless tobacco use. The rate of 10th graders using smokeless tobacco in the past month is 6.5 percent, up from last year and the same as it was in 1999. Smokeless tobacco, hookah smoking (smoking tobacco through a water pipe) and clove cigarettes are common alternatives sometimes touted as safe. Teens need to be reminded that nicotine is addictive and it is not just in cigarettes, but in all tobacco products.
Results of Smoking: Reasons to Quit
Most people know that smoking causes:
- emphysema and other chronic lung conditions
- heart disease
- infertility and pregnancy problems
- altered physical appearance including bad skin, yellow teeth, and bad breath
- reduced athletic performance
- increased risk of illness to colds, flu and other respiratory illnesses
- teen depression (A recent study conducted at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine indicates that smoking may actually be the cause of teen depression rather than an attempt to self-medicate. Among study participants that were originally not depressed, starting cigarette smoking was found to be the strongest predictor of developing depression.)
- cognitive impairment in women (A recent University of Iowa study found that women who previously smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day fared more poorly on reasoning, planning and organizing tests than those who never smoked.)
Finally, a recent study performed in Finland discovered that teens exposed to secondhand smoke have measurably thicker arteries than adolescents who are not exposed, suggesting that for children “even a little exposure to tobacco smoke may be harmful for blood vessels.”
How to Quit (give this guide to a teen you know that smokes)
It is very difficult to quit smoking since nicotine is an addictive drug, but millions of people do it every year and the benefits of quitting are undeniable. Following are some tips, tools and tricks to give to any teen that wants to become cigarette free.
Chew. Cravings only last 15 seconds, so the goal is to distract yourself when it hits. The act of chewing relieves the desire for oral stimulation and keeps the mouth busy, as well. Have mints or gum stashed everywhere so they’re always handy. The taste of menthol or peppermint makes a smoker’s mouth feel cool, fresh, and clean, which tricks the brain into feeling less desire for that hot intake of smoke. Smokers often opt for nicotine gum, but many stop-smoking experts say a sugarless mint-flavored gum works just as well or better. Red grapes are another good substitute oral-stimulation technique because their natural chemicals and antioxidants work to relieve cravings.
Get support. Tell your family and friends that you are quitting. Ask them to support you by not smoking around you, not teasing you, and not offering you cigarettes. Join a support group at your school or in your community. Find someone you can call for those times when you feel like you are having a weak moment and might smoke a cigarette. This person should know that you are trying to quit and can remind you of all the reasons why you decided to give up cigarettes. Spend a few days or a week away from your friends who smoke.
Throw away your cigarettes — all of your cigarettes. People can’t stop smoking with cigarettes still around to tempt them. Even toss out that emergency pack you have stashed in the secret pocket of your backpack. Get rid of your ashtrays and lighters, too. If you’re going to be a non-smoker, you won’t need these things again.
Wash all your clothes. Get rid of the smell of cigarettes as much as you can by washing all your clothes and having your coats or sweaters dry-cleaned. If you smoked in your car, clean that out, too. If your family smokes, ask them to not smoke in your room.
Think about your triggers. You’re probably aware of the situations when you tend to smoke, such as after meals, when you’re at your best friend’s house, while drinking coffee, or as you’re driving. These situations are your triggers for smoking — it feels automatic to have a cigarette when you’re in them. Once you’ve figured out your triggers, try to avoid those situations or have a substitute (mints, gum, etc.) ready for that time. If you smoke when you drive, get a ride to school, walk, or take the bus for a few weeks. If you normally smoke after meals, make it a point to do something else after you eat, like read or call a friend. Go to non-smoking places with your friends, like the mall or movies. Don’t drink alcohol since it will likely lower your willpower and increase your chances of having a cigarette.
Keep yourself busy. The more distracted you are, the less likely you’ll be to crave cigarettes. Quit on a Monday so that school will help keep you distracted. Staying active and exercising is an excellent way to distract yourself, make you feel better, and make sure you keep your weight down and your energy up, even as you’re experiencing the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Try planning some activities during the first couple of weeks to take your mind off smoking.
Use a nicotine patch or gum. Not all experts agree on the usefulness of nicotine substitutes, also called nicotine replacement therapy, since they don’t break the physical addiction to smoking. But they can be useful tools in overcoming the psychological side of the smoking addiction, which is a big part of the equation for many smokers. Still, experts say, patches and gum should only be used in combination with counseling or a support group; they’re not likely to work on their own. There are several different nicotine substitutes, and a doctor can help you determine which one will work best for you. Sprays and inhalers are available by prescription only. The patch requires the least effort on your part, but it doesn’t offer the almost instantaneous nicotine kick that gum does.
Reward yourself. Set aside the money you usually spend on cigarettes. When you have stayed tobacco free for a week, 2 weeks, or a month, buy yourself a treat like a new CD, book, movie, or some clothes.