Is It Really That Big A Deal For Teens To Try Smoking?

Published: June 16, 2014
Dear Is It Really That Big A Deal For Teens To Try Smoking?,

There are lots of teens who may try smoking. Why do adults make it seem like such a big deal when it's probably just a temporary thing for most of them?

Dear Is It Really That Big A Deal For Teens To Try Smoking?,

The reason so many people look at teen smoking as “such a big deal” is because of the health problems smoking causes and because of the lifelong addiction that often results from starting to smoke at such an early age. For example, studies have shown that people who start smoking before the age of 21 have the hardest time quitting.

According to the American Lung Association:

  • Cigarette smoking during childhood and adolescence produces significant health problems among young people, including an increase in the number and severity of respiratory illnesses, decreased physical fitness and potential effects on the rate of lung growth and maximum lung function.
  • Most importantly, this is when an addiction to smoking takes hold which often persists into and sometimes throughout adulthood.  If current tobacco use patterns persist, an estimated 6.4 million current child smokers will eventually die prematurely from a smoking-related disease.

The American Lung Association presents the following facts about child and teen tobacco use:

  • Among adults who smoke, 68 percent began smoking regularly at age 18 or younger, and 85 percent started when they were 21 or younger.The average age of daily smoking initiation for new smokers in 2008 was 20.1 years among those 12-49 years old.
  • Every day, almost 3,900 children under 18 years of age try their first cigarette, and more than 950 of them will become new, regular daily smokers. Half of them will ultimately die from their habit.
  • People who begin smoking at an early age are more likely to develop a severe addiction to nicotine than those who start at a later age. Of adolescents who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, most of them report that they would like to quit, but are not able to do so.

The World Health Organization presents the following health effects of smoking among young people:

  • Among young people, the short-term health consequences of smoking include respiratory and non-respiratory effects, addiction to nicotine, and the associated risk of other drug use. Long-term health consequences of youth smoking are reinforced by the fact that most young people who smoke regularly continue to smoke throughout adulthood. Cigarette smokers have a lower level of lung function than those persons who have never smoked. Smoking reduces the rate of lung growth.
  • In adults, cigarette smoking causes heart disease and stroke. Studies have shown that early signs of these diseases can be found in adolescents who smoke.
  • Smoking hurts young people's physical fitness in terms of both performance and endurance—even among young people trained in competitive running. On average, someone who smokes a pack or more of cigarettes each day lives 7 years less than someone who never smoked.
  • The resting heart rates of young adult smokers are two to three beats per minute faster than nonsmokers.
  • Smoking at an early age increases the risk of lung cancer. For most smoking-related cancers, the risk rises as the individual continues to smoke.
  • Teenage smokers suffer from shortness of breath almost three times as often as teens who don't smoke, and produce phlegm more than twice as often as teens who don't smoke.
  • Teenage smokers are more likely to have seen a doctor or other health professionals for an emotional or psychological complaint.
  • Teens who smoke are three times more likely than nonsmokers to use alcohol, eight times more likely to use marijuana, and 22 times more likely to use cocaine. Smoking is associated with a host of other risky behaviors, such as fighting and engaging in unprotected sex.

Given all that we know about the negative effects of smoking, it is better to just stay away from tobacco than to risk the consequences to your physical health and the strong possibility of a long-term addiction by starting tobacco use as a child or teen.