Teen Smoking: What Are The Health Risks And How To Stop The Habit

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These figures will shock you. 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers had smoked their first cigarette by the time they were 18 years; each day, over 3,200 youth aged 18 years or younger smoke their first cigarette (1).

These figures are for the US alone, and only for the cigarette. Imagine putting together such stats for the entire world and all forms of smoking.

The problem of smoking in teens is extremely alarming and no parent wants their child to be a part of these statistics. But is it in our hands? Can we understand why a teen smokes, know if our child is smoking, and take measures to keep them away from smoking? MomJunction tells you how to do all that. Keep reading.

How Common Is Smoking In Teens?

Consumption of tobacco is the leading cause of preventable diseases and deaths in the US. Here are some worrying facts about smoking among youth (2), (3), (4), (5):

  • As per the 2016 figures, 3 out of 100 middle school students in the US reported using two or more tobacco products.
  • 23.5% of boys and 17% of girls in the US have used various tobacco products in high school.
  • There are more than 90,000 regular teen smokers between the ages of 11 and 15.
  • 4.7 million students from middle and high schools in the US were tobacco consumers in the year 2015.
  • In India, nearly 1 in 10 children aged 13-15 have smoked at least once.

Statistics show that most people who died due to tobacco consumption started smoking during their teenage years. But what makes them take up this habit during their fun years? Let’s know.

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Why Do Teens Smoke?

Here are some of the many reasons why teenagers smoke:

  1. Friends circle: There’s peer pressure in teens and if some of the friends in the group smoke, others tend to pick up the habit soon. They also casually share their cigarette with peers. Adolescents feel accepted when they copy the habits of the other members of the group.
  1. Following parents: Some teens get the habit directly from parents who smoke. As children, they become passive smokers and have a high possibility of smoking later in life. Smoking by the mother during her pregnancy increases the risk of nicotine addiction in the child (6).
  1. Self-image: Teens are highly conscious of their public image, and this causes them to imitate what is popularly done. They think smoking makes them look cool, grown-up and independent.
  1. Behavioral problems: Emotional and behavioral problems stemming out of the environment at home and lack of familial support influence the teens to take up smoking (7).
  1. Stress: The pressure to perform well in academics, financial problems or health concerns could become too much for an adolescent to handle. They might want to find solace in smoking. Once they take a puff and start feeling ‘good’, they get addicted.
  1. Popular culture: The way the mass media promotes smoking in movies and TV shows could also make a teen to try it out of curiosity. Also, they might want to imitate their favorite film/ TV personality by smoking like them (8).
  1. Biological factors: Teenagers are biologically more sensitive to nicotine and can become dependent sooner than adults. When researchers studied smokers of different age groups, smoking the same number of cigarettes a day, they discovered that teens between 12 and 17 years demonstrated much higher nicotine dependence than any other age group (9).
  1. Availability and pricing: If cigarettes are easily available to young people and if the pricing suits their budget, it becomes easy to use them regularly.
  1. The dopamine effect: The intake of nicotine increases the levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine gets released in the body when some pleasurable activity is happening. Similarly, when a person uses a tobacco product, the release of dopamine makes one feel good. However, this sensation does not last long. That is why people would want to light up another one, ultimately leading to addiction.

As adults, we know smoking is bad for the child, but let’s see how bad it can be.

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What Are The Health Risks Of Smoking?

The following are the health risks associated with smoking any tobacco products (10), (11), (12):

  1. Nicotine increases blood pressure. It makes the adrenal glands release adrenaline, which leads to an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and breathing.
  2. The effects of toxic chemicals. Several other harmful chemicals, such as carbon monoxide, ammonia, tar, cyanide and formaldehyde, get released while smoking. They, too, have an adverse effect on the teen’s health.
  3. Cancer and other diseases in the long term. Young smokers are prone to brain hemorrhage six times more than non-smokers. Around 30 chemicals used in smoke and smokeless tobacco products are carcinogenic and can cause cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, ureter and cervix.
  4. Sleep deprivation: Smokers can end up sleep deprived because of the withdrawal effects of nicotine when they try to sleep at night after their last cigarette. Sleep deprivation can affect an individual’s concentration and focus during the day.
  5. Irritability: Smokers can become very irritable if they do not satisfy the craving to smoke.
  6. Heart diseases: Tobacco also increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and vascular diseases. Passive smoking also increases the risk of heart diseases.
  7. Infertility in females: Female smokers face issues of infertility three times more than non-smokers (13).
  8. Breathing problems: Asthma gets worsened by cigarette smoke, whether active or passive. Smoking also leads to bronchitis, where the air passages to the lungs swell. Passive smoking can also cause breathing problems like a cough and phlegm.
  9. Vision problems and other sensory problems: Smokers can get cataract or clouding of the eye. They may also lose receptivity to smell and taste.
  10. Skin problems: Smoking for years leads to the discoloration of teeth and breaking, and aging of the skin.
  11. Mouth ulcers and sores: Smokeless tobacco can cause mouth cavities, gum diseases, and sores.
  12. Accidental deaths: Sometimes, smoking does not kill the smoker directly but could result in accidental fires and deaths. Smoking is one of the leading causes of deaths that happen due to fire.
  13. Skin problems: Smoking for years leads to the discoloration of teeth and breaking, and aging of the skin. It damages the elastic tissue in the skin and gives rise to early wrinkling. Smoking can also cause erectile dysfunction, hip fractures, birth defects and rheumatoid arthritis.

Tobacco use is not limited to smoking traditional cigarettes. The popularity has led to the invention of more such products.

Let’s see what those various products are and how they affect an adolescent.

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Other Tobacco Products And Their Effects On Health

Here are some health problems associated with smoked and smokeless tobacco consumer products:

Smoked tobacco products:

  1. The Cigar has four times more nicotine count than a traditional cigarette. It means so much more harm to the teen’s health.
  1. Hookah poses serious health threats such as esophageal cancer, increases the risk of transmittable diseases such as tuberculosis through the mouthpiece that’s shared.
  1. Bidi, made out of unprocessed tobacco, contains three to five times more nicotine than a cigarette.

Smokeless tobacco products:

Smokeless tobacco products are no less dangerous. Some of the problems associated with them are:

  1. Spit tobacco causes gum diseases, cavities, and mouth cancers.
  1. Snuff or finely grounded tobacco leads to mouth cancer.
  1. Dissolvable tobacco comes in three forms — dissolvable breath strips, toothpick-like sticks, and candy-like orbs. Research has found that in addition to the adverse effects of nicotine, dissolvable tobacco also increases the risk of tooth decay due to the other ingredients like sweeteners and binders. It also contains the flavouring agent coumarin, which is banned in foods due to its potential to cause liver damage (14).
  1. E-cigarettes’ purpose as smoking cessation aid is controversial (15).

The health risks associated with smoking are so worrisome that you need to beat it before it raises its ugly head.

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How To Prevent Your Teen From Smoking?

Here are some tips for you to help your teen keep away from smoking.

  1. Be a good example: When parents smoke, teens can pick up the habit from them. The earlier you stop smoking, the better it is. Do not smoke in the house, in the car or in front of your child. If you are a smoker, talk to your child about your regrets and how difficult you find it to quit and how unhappy you are about it.
  1. Tell them about the negative effects: Do not avoid taking up the topic with your teen. Talk to them about the long-term consequences. Appreciate your teen for all the good choices they made. Tell them that you want them to make good choices in habits too.
  1. Be firm: Tell your teen politely that smoking is prohibited in the family. Ask them if their friends smoke. And if yes, tell them to be away from them. Smoking restrictions in family motivate teens to refrain from smoking.
  1. Give immediate examples: Talk to your teen about the close ones in your family or friends’ circle who have suffered due to smoking, and the pain they left in all the loved ones. Try to be emotional yet assertive.
  1. Motivate through monetary costs: As smoking is an expensive habit, you can make your teen calculate how much they would end up spending on smokes every year. Compare it with the things your teen can buy using the money.
  1. Encourage healthy habits: Motivate your teen to take up healthy habits and exercises, like joining the gym or playing their favorite sport. These will keep them busy, make them fit and also give them mental strength to say no to unwanted habits.
  1. Touch upon the effects of smoking on their looks: Most teens are aware of the diseases caused by smoking but they are too young to understand their gravity. Therefore, address the issues about vanity, such as:
  • bad breath
  • wrinkled skin
  • yellowing of the teeth and fingernails
  • breathlessness
  • a persistent cough
  • loss of energy

You may begin counseling them at a young age to drive home your point. But if you suspect that your teen has taken up the habit, look for the signs.

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How To Know If A Teen Is Smoking?

Here are some signs that may indicate that your teen is smoking:

  1. Cough: A chronic cough and an irritated throat on a regular basis may be indicative of smoking. However, you may consult a doctor to rule out other possible causes of a cough.
  1. Malodorous breath: If your teen has bad breath and is constantly chewing gum or mint, this could mean they have taken up smoking and trying hard to hide it.
  1. Yellowing of teeth: Maintaining oral hygiene or even brushing teeth regularly cannot negate the adverse effects of smoking on the teeth. The teeth will gradually turn yellow, and you may see it as a sign of smoking.
  1. The smell of smoke: You may smell your teen’s clothes or hair to check for the smell of smoke. The smell of tobacco is hard to expel and lingers for quite some time. Also, they might keep the windows open at odd hours trying to vent the air out.
  1. Objects such as lighters or matchsticks: If you find lighters or matchsticks in your teen’s room, cupboards or bags, this may indicate that he or she is buying cigarettes too. And when such objects are being used, you can watch out for burn marks or holes in bedsheets or carpets.

Although these signs are highly indicative of the habit of smoking, it is best to talk to your teen openly about it. Make every effort to stop it.

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How to Stop Teenage Smoking?

Here are a few steps you can take to stop smoking in teens:

  1. Talk to them: You might have already talked to your child about the evils of smoking. But now that you know that they smoke, approach them from a different angle, explain the negative effects, and tell them how much it hurts you. Do not scold or threaten them but be calm and handle the situation wisely.
  1. Set up a quit date: Once you convince them to quit smoking, motivate your teen to choose a date, maybe a good and symbolic day when your teen may get the motivation to stop a bad habit and take up something constructive.
  1. Have a different group of friends: If your teen’s friend circle has youth who smoke, advise your child to hang out with friends who do not smoke. This will keep them away from the temptation to try it again.
  1. Teach them to say no: It may be difficult for the adolescent to say no when their friends offer them a cigarette. But they need to overcome the difficulty and learn to say no. Talk to them and help them understand that saying no is no disrespect. It is rather a choice that should be respected.
  1. Handle the urge: It is not easy to handle the urge to smoke even for adults, and teens are just kids. So, prepare them for the cravings. Tell them that if they can control their urge for about a minute, the craving will pass. Have them take deep and long breaths. You may also offer cinnamon sticks or sugarless chewing gum to keep their mouth and mind busy.
  1. Pen the thoughts: Encourage your teen to pen down the positive reasons why they want to quit. Regularly reading and seeing this list will keep them motivated.
  1. Consider using alternatives: Consult your teen’s healthcare provider for advice on nicotine replacement products, such as nicotine gums or sprays. These products are not designed for teenagers but may help.
  1. Discourage e-cigarettes: According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), there is not enough scientific research to prove that e-cigarettes are better than the regular ones. Therefore, they cannot be an alternative to cigarettes if your teen wants to quit smoking.
  1. Counseling: You may seek help from smoking cessation professionals who can provide the tools and give moral support to your teen to quit smoking. You may also look for special organizations where stop-smoking groups actively help each other. Positive counselling can motivate young minds.

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If your teenager is motivated enough to quit a bad habit, appreciate them for their hard work. It’s not easy to quit an addiction, and when they finally do it, celebrate the day to make them realize that their initiative and right approach to life make a difference to the entire family. Make them confident that they have taken the right decision by quitting tobacco.

Do you have an experience to share? Let us know about it in the comment section below.

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