Teens and Smoking Tobacco

The differences between subjective feelings of those who smoke and those who don’t are shown in behavioral changes that are more apparent in teens than adults. Teens seem to be more abrasive when smoking or they feel like they are older and wiser when they smoke. Why do they smoke when we have seen billions of dollars spent on antismoking campaigns? The American Lung Association estimates that every minute four thousand eight hundred teens will take their first drag off a cigarette. Of those four thousand eight hundred, about two thousand will go on to be chain smokers. The fact that teen smoking rates are steadily increasing is disturbing. We are finding out that about 80% of adult smokers started smoking as teenagers.

We now see a lot of smokers giving each other rewards in social aspects such as conversations, companionships, and other common social contacts. Research has proven the fact that nicotine has the ability to suppress feelings, suppress appetite for food, is used as stimulation after sex, and is a good way to relax from troubles and feelings of insecurities. People that smoke go to designated areas and congregate around the one that has the light, even when the weather is sub-zero. There they are huddled up against each other in an area, taking in the last drag before the break is over, or they find some kind of shelter to smoke their cigarettes.

Teens like to act as if they are someone special or dangerous. By smoking they can act on those feelings. Because it is so forbidden it becomes more alluring to teens. The problem is that when they take that first puff, they can become addicted. The idea that they are breaking the law or going against their parents and schools is an addiction within itself. Kids like to get attention; it does not matter if it’s good attention or bad attention. They crave attention and by smoking they get big attention. The other teens look at them in all kinds of ways and the adults get upset and don’t know what to do.

Nicotine is considered the number one entrance drug into other substance abuse problems. Research shows that teens between 13 and 17 years of age who smoke daily are more likely to use other drug substances. The use of other drugs is part of the peer pressure that our children have to face. The earlier that our youth begin using tobacco, the more likely they will continue using into adulthood.

Why is tobacco so addicting? It is because nicotine acts as a stimulant, which is stimulating the mind, body, and spirit. This is similar to modafinil which we recently wrote about. When the body tolerance levels high then one ends up needing to use larger doses of nicotine to maintain a certain level of the physiological effect. When the body becomes accustomed to the presence of nicotine, it then requires the use of the chemical to help the body to function normally. This level of dependence is referred to as an addiction.

Here are some common experiences from teens who smoke.

♣ They tried their first cigarette in sixth or seventh grade
♣ They often do not perform well in school
♣ They feel like they are not a part of the school
♣ They become isolated from other students
♣ They can’t perform as well at sports events
♣ They feel like they have little hope of going to college
♣ They feel like they need a job to support their smoking habit
♣ They are reported to school officials for skipping classes
♣ They start using other illegal substances
♣ They begin experimenting with alcohol and other drugs
♣ They experience pressure from home and school and use tobacco as a form of relief
♣ Teen smokers enjoy trying to hide their smoking

This has made school more fun for some tobacco users. These types of behaviors get attention because the initiation of smoking is influenced by having a friend, particularly a best friend, who smokes. The risk factors do not apply because those who are young think that they are indispensable. The peers who use or have favorable attitudes toward tobacco use are more likely to use other illegal substances. On the other hand, if the teen becomes a member of a pro-social group, such as those participating in sports, cheerleading, or any club that promotes healthy living, the likelihood that the teen will attempt to stop smoking improves.

The amount of teens smoking cigarettes dropped about 28% in 2001. The following are some reasons why:
a) The increase of cost in the retail price of cigarettes has gone up 70%
b) The schools have implemented efforts to fight the use of tobacco (teen smoking).
c) There is an increase in youth exposure to both state and national mass media campaigns.
d) The truth on the effects of nicotine that are in tobacco products.

When tobacco companies lost the lawsuit that made them pay for anti-smoking ads, they raised the cost of cigarettes. Young people are having a harder time finding ways to smoke because smokers are paying top dollar for their cigarettes. We are also seeing teens speak out in the media and in person and they have been capturing the attention of their peers and changing attitudes about how un-cool and unhealthy teen smoking is.

The times are changing; what the public and science did not know twenty years ago is now coming to the surface. The fact is that smoking cigarettes can cause many health problems including emphysema, high blood pressure, and various forms of cancer. We are seeing people live longer and healthier lives and the old idea that smoking makes you cool and attractive is gone. This is the truth about cigarettes; they are loaded with harmful chemicals and the end result is that they are a dangerous drug that can seriously harm people.


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Fibkins, William L., (1993), “Combating Student Tobacco Addiction in Secondary Schools,” NASSP Bulletin, December.

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Lynch, Barbara S. & Richard J. Bonnie, (1994). Growing Up Tobacco Free. Washington D.C., National Academy Press.

Nelson-Simley, Kathleen & Laurel Erickson, (1995), “The Nebraska ‘Network of Drug-Free Youth’ Program,” Journal of School Health, Vol. 65, No. 2, February.

Peck, Diane DiGiacomo & Connie Acott, (1993), “The Colorado Tobacco-Free Schools and Communities Project,” Journal of School Health, Vol. 63, No. 5, May.