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The Tragedy of Teen Smoking

Approximately 440,000 Americans die each year from diseases related to smoking.

About 90% of all smokers started as teen smokers.

  • 90% of the above 440,000 is 396,000 teen smokers.

396,000 smokers who started as teens die each year from smoking related diseases

Each day 6,000 children under the age of 18 start smoking. Of those, 2,000 will keep smoking. That is 800,000 new teen smokers every year.

If current tobacco use patterns continue, an estimated 6.4 million children will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease.

Teen Smokers become addicted faster and on lower levels of nicotine than adults. This makes the decision for a teen not:

  • Do I want to smoke?
  • But Do I want to become a smoker?

Statistics Are Not Enough

Unfortunately, when our teens hear these statistics about smoking, they don't internalize them. Teen smokers are not typically aware of their own mortality. They tend to think of themselves as invincible and certainly not a part of the "heart disease generation". So, hearing that people die from lung cancer and heart disease from smoking really doesn't make much of an impact on their decision making paradigm.

Tobacco advertising focused on teens and children

Marketing research by the tobacco companies shows 60% of smokers start when they are younger than 13 and 90% before the age of 20.

Taking those statistics, the companies gear their ads to reach this vulnerable part of society. Their methods include:

  • Incorporating into their ads the impression that smoking is an illicit pleasure and part of entering the adult world.
  • Equating cigarettes with rebellion, freedom, even masculinity for boys and femininity for girls.
  • Advertising in sports magazines, and motor sports which interest teens.
  • Using figures like Joe Camel who surveys show children recognize as well as Mickey Mouse

What Parents Can Do

The first step toward avoiding or correcting a problem is knowledge.

  • Be aware of the statistics. Know the threats to your teen.
  • Know what the tobacco industry is doing to target your teen. Point it out to him.
  • Know what programs are available in your community to prevent or help stop teen smoking and know how you can participate.
  • Take an active roll in your teen's life.
  • Know where he is and what he is doing.
  • Get to know his friends and their parents. Invite the friends on family outings or to your home for activities.
  • Encourage your child to participate in school sports.
  • Talk to, and with your teen. Keep an honest and open dialogue. Look for opportunities to open the subject for discussion with questions such as:
    • "Why do you think I request a seat in the 'No Smoking' section?"
    • "Why do you think so many kids smoke knowing it is so dangerous?"
    • "What do you think when you see kids smoking?"
    • "What are some reasons you might give your own child for not smoking?"

Talking about smoking ahead of time will give your teen an opportunity to make the decisions ahead of time. Then when he is offered cigarettes he will already have the answer.

According to the Center for Disease Control, regular smoking decreases markedly with an increase in the number of sports played

Teens who play sports have a more positive self image, lower rates of depression, and increased self confidence. They experience less peer pressure about smoking. They notice reduced sports performance because of smoking and have a greater awareness of the health effects of smoking, Girls who play sports have a more positive body image and an increased sense of wellbeing.

In 1998 the tobacco companies made a settlement to all states to use for anti-smoking programs. From 1999 to 2002, as a result of the wise use of this funding, there was a significant decrease in the numbers of teen smokers. Since 2003, some states began using the tobacco company funds for other state budget needs. Consequently there is again a rise in the number of teen smokers.

The message is clear. With effort and appropriate funding we can reduce teen smoking. We can change the statistics.

Teen Smoking Statistics Sources:

  1. The Foundation for a Smoke Free
  2. America American Lung Association
  3. Florida Tobacco Pilot Program
  4. Centers for Disease Control
 Teen Smoking Statistics: Related Pages
  • Teen Smoking Prevention
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