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Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in this country. In the United States, more than 480,000 people die from tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke annually.
Unfortunately, over a thousand kids pick up a tobacco product for the first time every day. If kids continue to use tobacco products at the same rate, about 5.6 million kids that are under 18 years old today will die from a smoking-related disease.
Smoking and use of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco, can worsen, or even cause, various diseases and physical conditions. Over 16 million Americans are currently living with a disease that was caused by smoking. 16 million! Many of those health conditions will lead to death.
Luckily, kids are understanding the dangers of smoking. While it may seem like a lot of youth smoke, only about 4% of middle schoolers and 13% of high schoolers reported using tobacco products. Teen smoking rates continue to fall. Do you know why so many students are saying “no” to smoking? Keep reading to learn about the dangers of tobacco.
What is Tobacco?
Tobacco refers to several plants in the Nicotiana family and any product that is made from the leaves of these plants. Nicotine is the active ingredient in tobacco.
Cigarettes contain more than 7,000 chemicals, such as carbon monoxide and ammonia. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that kills people. Plus, cigarettes are highly addictive and tobacco is relatively easy to get. This accessibility makes it even more dangerous to kids and teens. Don’t forget that smoking is illegal under the age of 21.
Tobacco comes in a few different forms: cigarettes, chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes, hookahs, and cigars. We’ll cover the dangers of them all here.
How Tobacco Affects Your Body
While tobacco may not affect your brain function in the same way as drugs and alcohol, it is extremely damaging to both body and brain. Let’s break down the ways different forms of tobacco can hurt you.
- Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body.
- Cigarette smoking is the main cause of lung cancer and COPD.
- You are at risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and multiple cancers if you smoke.
- Smoking can cause you to go blind later in life.
- Nicotine increases signals in the brain forming a dependence.
- Nicotine use leads to anxiety and irritability.
- Smoking causes bad breath and yellow teeth.
- You may experience a loss of taste and smell.
- Chewing tobacco can cause cancer of the mouth and upper digestive tract.
- Once you lose the senses of taste and smell, you may experience loss of appetite.
- Chewing tobacco leads to tooth decay.
- Charcoal used to heat the tobacco raises health risks because of high levels of carbon monoxide, metals, and cancer-causing chemicals.
- Even though it passes through water, the smoke from a hookah has high levels of these toxic agents.
- The tobacco juices in a hookah irritates the mouth and increases the risk of developing oral cancers.
Smoking is highly addictive. Studies show that tobacco and nicotine addiction is more powerful than alcohol, cocaine, and opioids. What makes smoking so addictive?
Nicotine is a substance that stimulates pleasure in the brain. Inhaling nicotine helps it quickly enter the bloodstream and the brain. That nicotine causes endorphins called dopamine to be released in your brain.
Dopamine causes you feel joy, relaxation, pleasure, anxiety, and stress relief. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. The more dopamine you get from tobacco, the less your brain produces on its own. This causes your brain to crave nicotine which leads you to smoke more and more.
Pretty soon, you won’t get that good feeling anymore. Instead it just becomes an addiction that you have to feed constantly just so that you don’t feel bad. That is what makes cigarettes so addictive. A person’s brain tells them they need more of that feeling.
That is also what makes quitting smoking so difficult. And guess what? Most middle and high schoolers that start smoking want to stop. 70% of middle school and 59% of high school current smokers tried to quit smoking for at least one day or more.
Underage Smoking Data
Middle School Students (6th - 8th grade)
100% of Johnson County middle schoolers don’t smoke cigarettes. Going into 7th and 8th grade, the percentage of middle schoolers not smoking cigarettes decreases, but remains above 95%.
High School Students (9th - 12th grade)
Going into high school, smoking cigarettes is still very unpopular. In 9th grade and 10th grade, the percentage of Johnson County students not smoking cigarettes is higher than the state average. The rate of cigarette smoking increases to 17% in 12th grade, but still the majority of high schoolers don’t smoke cigarettes.
While the tobacco industry promotes some cigarettes as “low harm,” that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Tobacco companies have been proven to lie to the public regarding health claims. In fact, the risk of dying from smoking has increased in the last 50 years, even though most smokers now smoke those “healthier” cigarettes.
Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, asthma, and other smoke-related health concerns. In addition, secondhand smoke can get in your hair, skin, and clothes, making you smell like a smoker.
Cigarettes are highly addictive. Smoking is dangerous whether you smoke a lot or a little. The National Cancer Institute found that people who smoke less than one cigarette per day over their lifetimes had a 64 percent higher risk of an early death.
One of the reasons smoking is so dangerous is because it is so hard to quit. Plus, genetic factors may make quitting smoking harder for young people.
In fact, it can take only a few minutes for your brain to become addicted to nicotine. Quitting smoking means you’ll go through withdrawal symptoms including: tingling in hands and feet, headaches, nausea, anxiety, weight gain, and more. It’s better to never start.
If you’re feeling stressed with school, friends, or you’re just overwhelmed with life, smoking will not help relieve that stress. On the contrary, nicotine actually increases anxiety and irritability, leading to more stress.
Prevention Tips for Youth
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body. Yet every single day, about 3,200 kids and teens start smoking. What can you do if someone offers you a cigarette or tobacco product?
Make sure you know your reasons for not smoking. It helps to clearly understand why you don’t want to do something. Research the harmful effects of smoking. Understand how smoking can negatively impact your life. When you know how dangerous smoking can be, it’s easier to say no.
Avoid the temptation to smoke. It’s a lot easier to avoid smoking if you don’t put yourself in a situation where you may be pressured to smoke.You don’t want to stay away from friends or people you associate with, but try to stay away from situations where smoking might occur, such as unsupervised parties or hanging out in secluded places.
Find other activities that make you feel happy. Some people smoke because they think smoking will make them feel good. Finding other activities that make you happy can be good alternatives to smoking. For example, exercising also releases endorphins that make you feel happy.
In fact, the amount of endorphins released in the body during physical activity can be up to five times higher than when you’re at rest. You can also make physical activity a social event by joining a sport or taking a class with friends.
Remember your reasons. Firstly, smoking under the age of 21 is illegal. It’s not worth getting into trouble just to try a cigarette. Not only will it hurt your body, but it can get in the way of your life too. There are absolutely no upsides to smoking.
Prevention Tips for Parents
Preventing your kid from smoking can be daunting. In fact, cigarette companies are doing everything they can to make smoking an enticing option for children. But parents are a powerful influence, and there are many ways you can help to prevent your kids from smoking.
Start the conversation early. Beginning talking with your kids about smoking and vaping in elementary school can help set them up for success later in life. Set clear rules and expectations. Explain to your kids why smoking is not okay and make sure they understand the health risks. Keep an open dialogue with your child about smoking as they grow up.
Know how they’re being targeted. As a parent, it is important to know how exactly companies are targeting children. Flavorings in tobacco products can make them more appealing to youth. In 2021, 80.2% of high school students and 74.6% of middle school students who used tobacco products in the past 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product during that time.
Set a good example. If you smoke or vape, the best thing you can do is quit. At a minimum, don’t let your child see you smoking. Don’t allow friends or family to smoke around your child and try to minimize their exposure to tobacco.
Be aware of what they’re watching. Product placement in popular movies and tv shows can make the idea of smoking extremely appealing to youth. Keeping an eye on what your kids are watching can help you know what might be making an impression on their minds.
Warning Signs of Tobacco Use
Even if you’ve talked to your teen about the dangers of smoking, they might still be pressured into trying a cigarette at some point. It’s important to recognize the signs of smoking so you can help your child. Those signs include:
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