Tobacco Dependence And The Teenager
Tobacco dependence is a severe chronic illness. It reduces sports performance, stains fingers and teeth, increases cough, increases asthma, and decreases senses of taste and smell. Over the long term it causes cancer, heart disease, strokes, impotence, premature aging and early death. It harms not just the health of the smoker, but everyone around them.
For individuals predisposed to tobacco dependence, addiction can start after as few as 3 cigarettes. Tobacco is one of the most addictive drugs available — it is more addictive than heroin and cocaine. Over 90% of adults who are tobacco dependent started smoking in childhood or adolescence.
Tobacco is actively promoted to adolescents and young adults. Smoking in movies, tobacco displays in supermarkets, drug stores and convenience stores, tobacco sponsorship of sports events and concerts all increase smoking rates in children. Children learn what they see, and the more images of smoking that they see the greater their risk of becoming smokers. No wonder the tobacco industry invests in it.
Perhaps one of the most sinister aspects is the promotion of tobacco to women of childbearing age. The tobacco industry has developed products specifically targeted to young girls and women — Virginia Slims, Eve, Camel No. 9 to name a few. It is promoted as a sign of independence, liberation, camaraderie, confidence, success and glamour. As smoking rates in men have dropped, the tobacco industry has redoubled its efforts to promote its toxic product to young women. When a pregnant woman smokes, that smoke goes right to their womb. Babies are born smaller and weaker. Crib death rates are greater. Lung function is lower. Asthma and wheezing is greater. Breastfeeding is harder. One of the most important things that we can do to protect unborn children is to decrease smoking and smoke exposure in women of childbearing age.
What can be done to decrease smoking rates in adolescents? Increasing the price of tobacco, decreasing images of smoking and tobacco products, smoke free public spaces (including schools, workplaces. restaurants, sports facilities, etc.), restricting marketing of tobacco products (including counter displays, product placement in media, etc.), and counter marketing have all been shown to be effective — and for that reason vigorously fought by the tobacco industry.
As a parent, the most important thing that you can do for your child is to be a non-smoker yourself. Although it is difficult, try to avoid bringing your child to movies where the characters are smoking and try to avoid bringing your child to businesses where tobacco products are prominently displayed. It is important to talk with your child about the hazards of smoking and the importance of being a non-smoker.
If your teenager is tobacco dependent, free help can be obtained by calling the National Smoker’s Quit Line at 1.800.QUIT.NOW and from visiting Smoke Free Teen. You can advocate for effective public policies to reduce smoking in children by supporting the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.