Teen Smoking/Nicotine Use
If you can remember your own teenage years, you probably recall the draw of smoking. The cool kids in high school sometimes carried packs, sneaking out between classes or during study hall to smoke a few cigarettes. Maybe you watched them from afar, or maybe you were one of them yourself.
For teens, both then and now, smoking is one of the classic signs of rebellion. It's glorified in movies and on television, and sung about in songs from favorite names in rap, hip-hop, and pop. While schools are more vocal about the dangers of smoking than ever before, plenty of teenagers remain dedicated ignoring warnings from authority figures. As such, plenty of teens still smoke, no matter the underlying risks.
If you find a pack of smokes or a few loose cigarettes in your teen's room, possessions, or car, it's only natural to feel strong concern. The serious health consequences of smoking are well known, with nearly 480,000 directly attributable deaths each year, and that's a reality no parent wants for their child. When you want to find a way to help your child break his addiction to smoking and prevent the potential for future substance abuse, education about tobacco facts can be paramount.
The Reality of Teen Smoking
It's no secret: smoking kills. And yet, hundreds of young adults begin a smoking habit each and every day. At the time, it seems minor, a harmless habit that increases social cred and serves as an act of rebellion, but in reality, smoking in teens is extremely serious.
In the United States, 36.5 million individuals are addicted to nicotine and smoke cigarettes, a number that makes up nearly 10% of the population of the nation. Tragically, almost nine in 10 of these smokers started the habit before the age of 18 and 99% before age 26. These smoking statistics are frightening, but they paint a telling picture: teens who start smoking before age 18 are likely to remain smokers, and teens who do not smoke throughout young adulthood are unlikely to start.
Overall, roughly 2% of middle school students and 9% of high school students smoke cigarettes. This is an improvement – the rate for high school students was closer to 15% in 2011 – but still a devastating figure. Furthermore, if smoking continues at the current rate, 5.6 million of today's teens under the age of 18 will die from a smoking-related cause of death.
While the percentage of teenagers smoking continues to drop, it's still significant. With a total of 2,100 teens starting a habit on a daily basis, thousands of children are at risk for lifelong addiction.
How Teens Are Smoking
A few decades ago, the only real options for nicotine intake were traditional cigarettes or chew. In today's world, the launch of e-cigarette products makes the market exceedingly complex, offering a new, affordable, and highly popular way to start smoking.
Traditional cigarettes are still the most common option for teenagers. They are easy to access, with availability at virtually every convenience store and gas station nationwide. While the minimum age is 18 to purchase tobacco products, many stores do not ID, and most teens have friends of legal age willing to make purchases.
Smokeless tobacco, also known as dip, spit, or chew, is a popular alternative to cigarettes. Used by about 3% of those older than 18 and 6% of high school students, many teens choose this option because it is considered to be safer than smoking. However, this is far from the truth; smokeless tobacco carries just as many health risks, including tooth decay, mouth cancer, esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, smokeless tobacco isn't always used alone – nearly 4% of users who use chew also use at least one other tobacco product.
Modern teens have one other option that their parents did not: e-cigarettes. This process is also known as vaping. A synthetic version of a cigarette, e-cig smokers inhale the vapor produced by heating a solution of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine that has been laced with nicotine.
While seen as a way to break an addiction in adults who smoke – a debatable conclusion based on current research – the opposite is true in teens. Due to the frequent presence of flavors in vape juice, many teens actually start smoking this way due to the pleasant taste. In fact, 73% of high school students who used tobacco in the last 30 days used a flavored tobacco product. E-cigarettes are also easy to access, with online sales just a click away.
The First Cigarette
A first cigarette can happen in many ways. Some teens are at a party with their friends when someone brings out a pack. Others are looking for a way to handle stress and think cigarettes might help. And others still may be with a romantic partner who uses peer pressure to create a habit.
In reality, there's no way to protect your child from every potential place he could encounter a cigarette. it could happen at school, at work, with a longtime childhood friend, or at a party. It could even happen under your own roof.
You may not be able to stand in the way of all access to tobacco products, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't stay vigilant. After all, most teens who do not begin smoking by age 18 will never become smokers. Proper education at a young age can delay or even eliminate the risk of that fateful first cigarette.
Signs of Tobacco Use
Unlike many substances, tobacco can be harder to spot in users. The physical signs are significantly less noticeable than alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription drug abuse, making it more challenging for parents to catch signs of addiction in their children.
In general, the biggest indication of a smoking habit is the presence of tobacco products, like cigarettes, lighters, loose tobacco, rolling papers, chew tins, spit bottles, vape pens, e-cigarettes, and vape juice. These items are commonly kept hidden in backpacks, pockets, dresser drawers, or in a teen's car.
Teens who smoke will also generally smell strongly like smoke. Many smokers are not aware of the extreme nature of cigarette smoke and believe that showering, laundry, and oral hygiene can prevent the smell. This is not true; for regular smokers, the stench of smoke permeates everything from bedding and carpet to car interiors. If your teen's possessions smell like smoke, he is probably smoking.
There may also be some behavioral changes in your teen if he has developed a smoking habit. Due to the intense power of nicotine, teens who are addicted will need to smoke regularly, and when this is not possible, they may show signs like irritation, anxiety, stress, or anger. These symptoms are frequently known as a nicotine fit, or nic fit.
Why Teen Smoking Matters
While experimentation is normal in teens, cigarettes are rarely a substance that can be used casually. Nicotine is significantly more addictive than many other frequently abused drugs, and effects of nicotine reach the brain after just 10 seconds of use. In fact, nicotine is more addictive than cocaine, morphine, heroin, or alcohol.
Teens who start smoking are significantly more likely to have long-term addiction problems throughout life and are less likely to quit successfully. Additionally, health consequences can be far more severe in teens who smoke versus adult smokers. Those who start smoking young can stunt lung growth, causing lifelong respiratory problems and an increased risk of cancer. This can cause problems in fitness and endurance as well, even for those who are currently successful athletes.
Smoking also raises the heart rate, putting more strain on the body's circulatory system. In fact, teen smokers have a heart rate two to three beats per minute higher than non-smokers. This can increase the chance of heart disease and heart attack later in life – one of the leading non-cancerous causes of death among smokers.
The Addiction to Nicotine
Cigarettes have many ingredients, including a litany of dangerous chemicals, but the most prevalent is tobacco leaves. Grown and harvested from the tobacco plant, these leaves are a natural source of nicotine, a chemical compound that is absorbed through the air sacs in the lungs. Nicotine is highly addictive, with the ability to create a dependency in just a few uses. This leads to a strong physical addiction, as the body becomes used to this compelling substance.
Serving as both a stimulant and a depressant, nicotine increases the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine into the body, generating happy, euphoric sensations. Smoking is often a calming experience, improving mood and stabilizing anxiety. However, due to the short life of nicotine in the body, smokers need regular access to cigarettes to keep these feelings going.
The frequency with which most smokers smoke – usually one pack a day, or 20 cigarettes – also results in behavioral patterns. Smoking becomes a part of one's daily routine; it's usually the first thing smokers do in the morning and the last thing before bed. Smoking occupies breaks at work, meal times, and stressful situations, affecting virtually every aspect of daily life. As this routine becomes more established, cigarettes become an irreplaceable part of a smoker's lifestyle. With these patterns in place, quitting can be much harder as everything from waking up to finishing lunch can trigger the urge to smoke.
Breaking an established cigarette habit is next to impossible for many smokers; only 6% of long-term smokers who try to quit are able to successfully walk away from nicotine dependency.
The Evolution of Smoking
Smoking is a horrible habit on its own, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. However, in teens, cigarette use can have another devastating effect: the increased likelihood of future substance abuse.
Teens who start smoking are three times more likely to use alcohol, eight times more likely to smoke marijuana, and 22 times more likely to try harder drugs, like cocaine. Smoking is also associated with other risky behaviors, including fighting, law breaking, and unprotected sex.
Cigarettes do not necessarily cause these problematic patterns, but one step forward into risk-taking territory can certainly increase the possibility of associated actions. Teens who are willing to try smoking and find it pleasant may wonder what other substances are out there that can provide similar sensations.
If you find cigarettes or smoking paraphernalia in your teen's room, he may not be using other substances yet. However, the possibility of future drug or alcohol abuse is statistically more likely.
Addressing Teen Smoking
Discovering a smoking habit in your teen can be devastating for parents, especially those who have witnessed the fatal consequences of tobacco use first hand. However, it's best to stay calm and rational when talking to your teen. It's not always easy to talk about substance abuse concerns, but a talk now can mean a world of difference later.
Find a quiet place to sit down and discuss the concerning signs you have seen, like the presence of cigarettes and lighters or changes in behavior. Stay as controlled as possible, and give your teen plenty of options to open up to you. Urge him to be honest, and keep your temper under control, even if the secrets your teen reveals are troubling. If possible, look for indications of other substance abuse, like drinking or marijuana use, or bring up quitting strategies you can try with your child.
If your teen is showing signs of tobacco use coupled with other substances, treatment may be essential. Please contact Teen Treatment Center at (844)319-5239 today to learn more about how to help your teen reduce the risk of a lifetime struggle with addiction. Our counselors are always standing by.
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