Despite the plethora of information published regarding the risks associated with smoking cigarettes, nearly one in five high school-aged teens are still smoking.
While the overall number of teens smoking has declined in recent years, many teenagers are still buying cigarettes and using them. Approximately 440,000 Americans die every year from diseases related to smoking and about 90 percent of those individuals began smoking as a teenager. But these shocking statistics alone are not enough to stop the prevalence of teen smoking. Teens generally are not aware of their own mortality and are unable to internalize those statistics. While they hear about the rates of death due to heart disease and lung cancer, they do not consider themselves a part of that group. In many cases, teens feel as if they are invincible and the bad things they hear about will never happen to them.
Influences on Teenage Smoking
Although there are a number of statistics that show how dangerous smoking is, teens continue to pick up the habit. Marketing research conducted by tobacco companies show that approximately 60 percent of smokers start their habit before they are 13 years old, and 90 percent begin smoking by 20 years old. With these statistics in mind, and taking into account the unique mindset of an adolescent, tobacco companies gear their ads towards this demographic. But tobacco advertising is only a part of the problem when evaluating the influences on teen smoking.
- Their parents are smokers: Teens whose parents smoke are far more likely to begin smoking. Seeing someone they look up to use cigarettes can make them believe it is okay to smoke.
- Peer pressure: Teens are at a unique developmental stage in which they are still trying to discover themselves. Most want to fit in and be accepted by a group of people, and smoking can be a method of connecting with peers. Their friends may encourage them to try smoking and they will continue the behavior in order to fit in.
- Smoking is method of rebelling and showing independence: Teens are in a hurry to grow up. and smoking can be a way of asserting their independence. If they have been told by their parents, teachers, and other adults to not engage in specific behaviors—such as smoking—they may begin the practice in order to gain autonomy. To them, the act of defying the guidance of others asserts their independence and propels them into a more adult world by engaging in what they perceive to be an “adult activity.”
- The perception that “everyone else is doing it”: The influence of the media and pop culture is strong. When teens see celebrities smoke, or see characters they like smoking in movies, television shows, and music videos, they are more likely to believe that “everyone is doing it” and so should they.
- Tobacco advertising targeted towards teens: Cigarette manufacturers use advertising campaigns to equate cigarette smoking with being cool, independent, attractive, and fun. These adjectives greatly appeal to teens and many will try cigarettes to attain that lifestyle.
The Introduction of the E-Cigarette
With the rise in popularity of the e-cigarette, teens are smoking more now than ever before. The e-cigarette works to simulate the regular tobacco cigarette, but portrays itself as a safer alternative because it produces a mist (also called vapor) rather than actual smoke. It has a similar appearance and sensation to smoking a cigarette, but it also offers a variety of flavors to entice consumers.
While e-cigarettes are illegal to sell to minors under the age of 18 (or 19 in some states), the companies that sell them often market e-cigarettes to adolescents. E-cigarettes feature a number of customizable styles, flashing lights, and endless flavors that make them appeal to a younger audience. While these devices are sometimes marketed as a tool that can be used to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, studies show that e-cigarettes can be just as addictive as traditional cigarettes and may come with increased risks.
Effects of Long-Term Nicotine Use and How to Quit
Nicotine can cause a number of long-term side effects. Since many of the negative side effects associated with tobacco use develop over a long period of time, it can be difficult for an individual to identify incentives to quit until it is too late. Tobacco use can lead to the development of heart disease, cancer, lung disease, reproductive damage, birth defects, and other negative consequences. Smoking is responsible for countless deaths due to heart disease and stroke.
Quitting smoking can be incredibly difficult due to the addictive nature of nicotine. Here are a few ways you can abstain from tobacco use:
- Cold turkey: Nearly 90 percent of people who quit smoking do so by using the cold turkey method. This means they quit smoking without the assistance of outside support such as aids, therapy, or medicine. Although it is the most common method people may try, it is not the most effective for long-term smoking cessation. Approximately 4 to 7 percent of people are able to quit long-term with this method alone.
- Behavioral therapy: Smoking habits may develop as a method of coping with stress, weight management, or other compulsive behaviors. Working with a counselor can improve your ability to quit smoking. A counselor can help you identify your triggers and create a plan to get through vulnerable moments.
- Nicotine replacement therapy: There are a number of nicotine replacement therapies that can help you quit smoking. Lozenges, nicotine gum, patches, and sprays are all forms of replacement therapy. This works best in conjunction with behavioral therapy and proves to be the most effective method of quitting smoking. Those who are under 18 years old must get permission from a doctor before using these products.
- Medicine: In some cases, a doctor can prescribe medication that will help you quit smoking. Some medications include Zyban and Chantix.
Combining any of these methods to quit smoking will greatly improve the outcome and your quality of life.