Teen Smoking

Teen smoking can cause not only physical problems but also a variety of cognitive and behavioural problems, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and memory loss, and has been associated with lower IQ in teenagers.

Children who are routinely exposed to second-hand smoke from cigarettes and cigars may suffer not only medical problems such as asthma, colic and middle ear disease but also damage to their nervous systems, affecting the development of their intellect and reasoning abilities.

Teenagers get addicted to every substance faster than adults and once addicted have much greater difficulty ridding themselves of the habit – not just in their teen years but throughout the rest of their lives.

Those who try to stop smoking experience withdrawal symptoms, including trouble concentrating, irritability and sleep problems

When the teen first gets addicted, one cigarette a month or one cigarette a week is enough to keep their addiction satisfied. But as time goes by, they have to smoke cigarettes more and more frequently.  So a teen smoking may be addicted for more than a year before they feel the need to smoke a cigarette every day.

Those who began smoking in adolescence are also three times more likely to begin using alcohol, and long-term ingestion of nicotine has been shown to increase tolerance to alcohol, meaning it takes more alcohol to produce the same effect. Not surprisingly, smokers are ten times more likely than non-smokers to develop alcoholism.

How to Steer Teens Away From Smoking

  • Acknowledge the attraction – it is an expression of rebellion against parental control and
  • A way of bonding with a particular group of friends.
  • It is something new and different – tempting
  • Talk to them about it BEFORE you suspect them to be smoking – Calmly ask them if any of their friends smoke.  Affirm their own good sense not to smoke by pointing out the effects of tobacco on their growing brains.
  • Tell them how each cigarette is hooking their brains into wanting another one and another one.
  • Treat them with respect acknowledging that they can learn the facts.

Engaging in conversation about teen smoking and other topics increases communication between you and your teenagers. This is also a chance to talk to them about how generations of teenagers have been manipulated by tobacco companies that portrayed smoking as glamorous in magazine ads, commercials and movies.  You can also help them count the weekly or monthly cost of cigarette smoking.  You can even suggest ways around the peer pressure your son or daughter might feel when offered a cigarette, and appealing to teenage vanity – skin, hair, personal freshness breath etc.  Remind them that tobacco stains their teeth, and will probably leave them with a chronic cough and winded when trying to do sports.  Remind them, too, of a relative or friend or a well-known celebrity who suffered severe health consequences directly related to smoking.

It’s difficult for teenagers to look into the future because their brains are not yet wired to consider distant consequences, but that shouldn’t stop parents from bringing up those consequences and drilling them into their teenagers. They may be dismissive, they may put their hands over their ears or turn and walk away, but on some level it will register.  Remember, they don’t miss a thing at this age.

If all else fails and a teenager has already picked up the habit, then ask him or her to at least consider smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes. They aren’t harmless, of course, but they’re better than the alternative.  More important, parents should be a good role model for their teenager.  They can’t preach abstinence if they are still smoking.


Source “The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s survival guide to raising adolescents” by Frances E. Jensen