Archive for May, 2016

Dangers of Teen Smoking and What Parents Can Do to Intervene

According to the 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) Global Report on Trends in Prevalence of Tobacco Smoking, tobacco use is accountable for the death of approximately 6 million people across the world each year. This figure includes the estimated 600,000 people who are also likely to die from the ill effects caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.

Cigarette smoking poses serious health risks, as attested by several studies. Among these risks are certain cancers like mouth, throat, larynx, lungs; coronary heart disease; and respiratory ailments.

The onset of medical conditions related to tobacco use is affected by the duration of exposure to its dangers. The earlier in age the smoking begun, the sooner the health complications develop. Medical research shows that those who started tobacco use in their teens are more likely to develop nicotine addiction and become heavy users upon reaching adulthood. The longer the use, the more challenging it is to quit.

This is why teen smoking is a grave public health threat. However, adolescents continue to stubbornly ignore the statistics and the health warnings. For instance, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collated data show that more than 3,200 teens ages 18 and below have been initiated to cigarette smoking.

These figures show that despite pervasive health education, prevention propaganda, and government bans, smoking remains tremendously popular among young people.

It is worth noting that the term “tobacco use” is not limited to cigarettes but includes other tobacco-related products such as e-cigarettes, hookahs, cigars and low-tar products. Use of multiple tobacco products is also common among teens. According to the information gathered from the CDC surveys on Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School from 2011 to 2015, an average of 3.3% of middle school children and 13% of high school students admitted to use two or more tobacco products in the past 30 days.

cigarette smoking

Why Teenagers Smoke

There are several factors that affect a teenager’s decision to begin smoking. Among the major contributing elements are the following:

Media and advertising campaigns

Because surveys show that heavy smokers begin the habit between their pre-teen to teenage years, tobacco manufacturers have devised strategies to redesign their advertising to target this particular age group. A popular example is the marketing strategy of Camel cigarettes in the late 80’s which utilized the cartoon character Joe Camel. The marketing strategy was so effective that it significantly increased the sales of Camel cigarettes in the United States to about $466 million in 1992.

Similar promotional tactics – which include hiring famous celebrities to endorse cigarette smoking – are being used by other leading tobacco companies to portray smoking as “cool,” “hip,” “romantic,” and “pleasurable.” Some of these ads also associate smoking with independence, rebellion, glamor and popularity.

In addition, the proliferation of film, television, music videos and magazines that feature teenage characters who smoke sends out the message that this is a good trend to engage in. These entice the young generation to light up and smoke their first cigarette.

Familial exposure

Children who are exposed to parents, family members or guardians who smoke are also likely to take up the deadly habit. Kids look up to their parents and elders as primary role models and mimic their behaviour. Failure by the parents to emphasize the harmful effects of smoking creates the perception that it is “normal” or “acceptable” and lessens the impact of health advisories.

Peer pressure

Peer pressure is also a major contributing factor. During their adolescent years, children feel a compelling need to belong and to be accepted by social circles. Smoking may provide as avenues for developing friendships or strengthening bonds among peers.

It is during these formative years that teenagers struggle for a sense of self-identify and independence apart from their parents. It is a crucial phase and their coping mechanisms will determine whether or not they will succumb to the societal pressure to light and smoke their first cigarette. Parental absence or neglect coupled with lack effective school regulations of cigarette use on school campuses will negatively impact their decisions.

teen woman smokingRebellion or social image

Teenagers also go through the transition period from being a child to an adult and during this stage, they experiment with their choices. This is also the time when several differences between the parents and the teenagers arise. This can spark defiance and rebellion, which are also motivating factors for teens to pick up smoking as a habit, either to deliberately challenge their parents or to seek much-wanted attention.

They may also be driven by the desire to build an image of being independent, cool, gothic or bad as when they identify with a character from a movie or an anime cartoon and they start practicing the bad habits portrayed in the film.

Sense of invincibility

In a certain way, most adolescents feel immortal and invincible. In their teenage years, they view life ahead as a series of never-ending adventures that would somehow stretch on through eternity. For them, the concepts of aging, sickness and health are so far off in the future. Thus, public health warnings on the perilous effects of smoking are easily ignored. Besides, they always tell themselves the biggest lie that most smokers believe – that they can quit anytime.

Dangers of Teen Smoking

The younger a person is initiated to tobacco use, the more likely he is to develop nicotine addiction in his adult years. Nicotine poisons the body over time and dependence on the substance places a smoker at a greater risk for developing serious health problems at an earlier age. Among these are: coronary heart diseases; stroke; emphysema; several cancers; lung diseases; respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia; osteoporosis; decreased fertility and impotence.

Smoking in teenage years causes reduced lung growth. As a result, the lungs are undeveloped and become incapable of functioning properly. Thus, teenage smokers are most likely to have respiratory illnesses throughout their lives.

Nicotine addiction occurs hastily in adolescents, making cessation and withdrawal more challenging.

Tobacco use doesn’t only impact the health of the smoker. It is equally dangerous to those who are exposed to second-hand smoke which contains several chemicals proven to be carcinogenic. Prolonged exposure can trigger conditions such as asthma, allergies, heart disease. In worse cases, it may even cause lung cancer.

smoking

Warning Signs

It is important to know the warning signs of teen smoking. Spotting them early on allows for an opportunity for timely intervention that can delay the occurrence of nicotine dependence. Here are some warning signs that parents should watch out for:

Smoke smell

This is one of the most telling signs that a teenager is smoking. It is also easy to detect because the strong smell of cigarette smoke attaches to clothing items and even to the skin.

Use of cologne sprays or air fresheners

Sudden or increased use of cologne sprays or body mists could indicate that the teenager is attempting to conceal or obscure the scent of cigarette smoke on his clothing. The same goes for sudden use of air fresheners or incense in his bedroom especially if he has not used these items in the past.

Lighters and matches

Parents should watch out for unnecessary acquisition of lighters and matches by their teenage children. There may be several lighters or matchboxes hidden in their desk drawers, backpacks, purses or clothing pockets and these are strong indicators that they are smoking.

Breath mints or breath fresheners

Another sign of teen smoking is the sudden or increased use of breath fresheners, mints, chewing gums, candies or mouthwash. The teenager could be using these products in attempts to camouflage the smell of tobacco on his breath.

Disappearances from the house

If the teenager is frequently leaving the house on short notice or suddenly goes out without seeking prior permission, for no valid reasons, it could be that he is sneaking off somewhere to smoke a cigarette. These instances of his disappearances, especially when under questionable circumstances as when they occur at night, should be investigated and addressed promptly.

If these signs or behavioral changes are noticed, it may be time to for the parents or other family members to intervene. It is imperative that tobacco use is stopped immediately in order to diminish its chances of progressing to nicotine addiction.

How Parents Can Intervene

Be a positive role model

The best way for parents to keep children away from smoking is for them to set good examples. They are the most influential people in their children’s lives. Their employed parenting techniques will reflect on their kids’ choices.

There should be open discussion in the home as to the negative impacts of smoking followed by a firm stand against it. It should be discouraged. If parents are themselves, struggling with tobacco use, they should seek professional help and cessation programs.

Take active roles in their lives

Smoking is only one of the many vices teenagers may take up as a result of parental neglect. Parents should keep open channels of communication with their children and be take active roles in their lives. For instance, show genuine interest in their hobbies, encourage family activities, and get to know their friends. Children who feel emotionally secure in the home and who know they can turn to their parents for advice and guidance are less likely to cave into peer pressure.

Be patient, not judgmental

Should parents find that despite all their efforts, their kids have started smoking anyway, they should sit down to dialogue and to listen. It is important that teenagers don’t feel attacked or cornered. Rather, they need to be assured that their parents are coming from a place of concern and affection. Parents should avoid issuing threats or imposing punishment outright. On the contrary, they should strive to listen and to understand the reasons why their children started smoking.

The addictive nature of nicotine will make quitting very difficult and confusing for teenagers. They will need their parents’ support, motivation and encouragement especially during the rough periods of withdrawal.

parent intervention teens

Encourage sports and physical activities

According to several studies in the past, there is evidence that physical activities can delay smoking initiation among the youth. Team sports and aerobic activities are also recommended as part of smoking cessation programs, to help distract both the mind and body from the cravings for tobacco use.

Counselling intervention

It will definitely help to seek professional medical advice and enroll the teenage smoker in individual counselling or support group therapy. A report by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) supports the position that counselling is especially effective for adolescent smokers as it doubles long-term abstinence rates compared to other approaches that do not involve behavioural treatment.

Parents may also encourage their children to register for smoking cessation programs whether at school clinics, treatment facilities, or community health centers.

The harmful and life-threatening effects of teen smoking, as well as the adverse implications of the relevant statistical data, are widely known. While prevention of cigarette initiation appears to be the best solution to this public health issue, timely intervention methods are likewise effective alternatives. The importance of intervening early and swiftly as soon as the issue is discovered cannot be sufficiently underscored.


Whatever factors compel teenagers to begin this addictive pattern, all hopes to salvage their future are not entirely lost. They must have the resolve to begin the journey towards recovery, through the guidance and support of family and friends. Clearly, overcoming tobacco use or dependence is a battle that no ordinary adolescent can win alone.

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