According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. As a result of aggressive tobacco prevention efforts over the past few decades, the number of children and teens who smoke has been dropping since the late 1990’s. However, there is still more work to be done. Rates of cigarette smoking among high school-age teens are still higher than the rates of adult smokers and a constantly stream of advertising, television and movies that glorify smoking make kids vulnerable to trying tobacco products.
According the American Cancer Society, almost all smokers start when they are young. Each day more than 4,000 youth under the age of 18 try their first cigarette and another 1,100 become regular, daily smokers, putting them at risk for a host of smoking-related problems, including:
- Shortness of breath
- More frequent headaches
- Increased phlegm (mucus)
- Respiratory illnesses
- Worse cold and flu symptoms
- Reduced physical fitness
- Poor lung growth and function
- Worse overall health
- Addiction to nicotine
In fact, the younger one is when they begin to smoke, the more likely they are to smoke as an adult. This is because most young smokers are already addicted to nicotine and thus find it hard to quit. Over time, smoking can lead to more serious problems such as early heart disease and stroke; gum disease and tooth loss; chronic lung diseases like emphysema and bronchitis; hearing loss; and, vision problems.
On average, about 60 percent of high school smokers will still be smoking 7 to 9 years later.
In addition to cigarettes, other forms of tobacco are commonly used by youth including: spit or smokeless tobacco, clove cigarettes (i.e., kreteks), flavored cigarettes (i.e., bidis), small cigars, hookahs (i.e., water pipes). Though different in form to cigarettes, all of these tobacco products carry great risks to users and can cause serious health problems.
What can I do to prevent or stop tobacco use?
The best thing to do is keep kids from starting to use tobacco in the first place by talking about the dangers of tobacco use at an early age. Studies have found that talking to children as young as 5 or 6 years old and continuing the conversation until high school can have a profound effect on preventing tobacco use. A great resource is the truth anti-smoking campaign, which has been very successful in preventing youth smoking.
For those who already use tobacco, many free programs are available to help smokers and other tobacco users kick the habit. The CDC and the American Cancer Society both have helpful online tools for quitting. Other practical steps, such as the Five D’s may help those who are trying to quit tobacco get through tough times.
The Five Ds:
- Delay: The craving will eventually go away.
- Deep breath: Take a few calming deep breaths.
- Drink water: It will help flush out the chemicals.
- Do something else: Find a new, healthy habit.
- Discuss: Talk about your thoughts and feelings.
Reminder: Be patient and kind to people trying to quit smoking — it’s not easy! Nicotine is an addiction, and it takes more than willpower to quit.