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Health Effects of Teen Smoking

Reading Time: 5 minutes

There are many risks when it comes to teen smoking. Hence, it’s hard to believe that cigarette use was once the norm. World War II-era soldiers were even provided with a ration of tobacco, tucked in amid their cheese slices and bacon bits. Much of this changed in the mid-1970s, the Los Angeles Times reports. Military officials realized that soldiers who smoked didn’t perform as well on athletic tests as soldiers who did not smoke. Cigarettes were removed from rations, and the smoking rates began to drop as a result. It’s a path followed by civilians as well. As the risks of teen smoking became clear, fewer teenagers began smoking and the activity was less ubiquitous throughout society. Now, entire towns ban smoking, and few public facilities allow smoking on the grounds.

Unfortunately, some of these gains in smoking have left teens behind. Teen smoking is on the rise. Each day, almost 3,900 people younger than 18 smoke for the first time. And 950 of these people become daily smokers, the American Lung Association reports. The reasons for teen smoking involve a delicate interplay between social expectations, genetics, and environmental factors. But teens who do smoke can face serious health consequences.

Short-Term Issues of Teen Smoking

The lungs are filled with tiny hairs embedded in a fine film of mucous. This system allows the lungs to capture dirt and bacteria. The lungs move them gently back out of the body before they become pocketed and cause severe damage. Each time a person inhales cigarette smoke, a few of those little hairs die off. The debris is still trapped, but the body has no way to move the debris back out again. People who smoke may develop coughs quickly. Teen smoking results in such health problems happening even earlier. Their lungs begin to develop damage like this, and the coughs can become more and more acute if the person continues to smoke.

Thankfully, this isn’t permanent damage, as research shows. People who quit smoking can regain their normal function within 10 to 15 years, returning to the level of a person who has never smoked.

The lungs aren’t the only organs damaged by cigarettes. Smoke that rises from cigarettes and is exhaled through the mouth passes by the delicate skin of the face and neck. People who smoke for decades often develop thick, leathery skin that simply looks old and dry. Teen smoking can lead to leathery skin and even fine wrinkles on their cheeks and foreheads due to chronic smoke exposure. This issue might also resolve if the teen chooses to stop smoking. Teens might also develop characteristic yellowing of their teeth and fingertips. These stains can be removed with cleansers and bleaching treatments. But teens might be dismayed to discover how much smoking can ruin their once picturesque good looks.

Teens who smoke cigarettes are also more likely to drink alcohol and use drugs.

This association might be due, in part, to the rebellious nature of kids who smoke. Teen smoking is a way to thumb their noses at convention and the idea that they should keep their bodies safe. It’s easy to see why this act of rebellion could grow into larger and larger acts over time. Teens who smoke tobacco might also spend time with other teens who abuse drugs. This could also lead to more long-term problems and poor life decisions. Hence, this could also lead to teen rehab.

Long-Term Problems

Lung capacity tends to grow as a child grows. The ribcage gets bigger and bigger, allowing the lungs to stretch to new sizes, and the body just grows larger and more powerful as time passes. Teens who smoke, however, can arrest this process, essentially freezing their lung capacity in place. One study, reported in the Washington Post, researchers found that children who smoked at age 15 exhaled 8 percent less air per second than teens who did not smoke. and their lung capacity growth stopped one year earlier as well. These aren’t losses that can be amended in time. These are losses that could be felt for the rest of the teen’s life. Teens who smoke may also develop:

  • Emphysema
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer

The Dangers of Smoking Cigarettes

Some of these issues develop due to tiny tissue damage that accumulates slowly. While anyone who smokes is susceptible to this kind of damage, there is some evidence that suggests that teens are at greater risk. According to a study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, adolescence is considered a crucial growth period. This is especially true for the lungs. Damage that takes place during adolescence might have a greater impact than damage that takes place at any other time. During adolescence, when cells are growing, any changes in genetic codes due to smoking damage could become permanent. and cause lifelong illness down the road. A study in the journal BMJ Open makes this risk even more clear. Here, researchers found a link between age of smoking initiation and lung cancer. The younger people were when they started smoking, the more likely they were to develop lung cancer. Doing damage during a critical time of development could lead to an early cancer diagnosis.

The damage may be caused by cancer or attributed to lung dysfunction. One thing is clear: Adolescents who smoke are shortening their lives. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reports that smokers lose an average of 13 to 14 years of life due to their smoking habits. That might be reason enough for parents to get serious with their kids about the need to develop a smoke-free lifestyle.

The Rise of Addiction

Nicotine is incredibly addictive, and teens seem to be especially vulnerable to addictive drugs like this. The American Lung Association reports that teens who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime find it hard to quit. Some teens develop addictions and they experience cravings soon after initiating cigarette use.

Teens can also become addicted to the process of smoking. They may find it difficult to think about going through the day without the ability to smoke.

Teens who attempt to stop smoking may experience symptoms of withdrawal. According to a study in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, and those symptoms can include:

  • An urge to smoke
  • A craving for nicotine
  • Mood swings
  • Strong reactions to smoking cues, such a photographs of people smoking

Withdrawal symptoms like this can make it difficult, if not impossible, for teens to quit smoking on their own. They may simply feel as though they need cigarettes in order to feel happy and normal, and they may be unable to find a way to stop smoking without help.

Risk Factors

Despite the widespread evidence that smoking can be catastrophic for health, many teens continue to believe that smoking makes them somehow “cool” and desirable. They may smoke as a way to improve their social standing. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health seems to suggest that this is a winning strategy, as the most popular students in seven schools studied were more likely to smoke than students who weren’t considered popular. As long as this statistic remains in place, and teen smoking and popularity are linked in such an extreme fashion, teens who pay attention to popularity will remain at risk for smoking.

Teens who live in households where parents smoke are also at greater risk for becoming smokers, when compared to kids who live in nonsmoking households. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggests that living in a household with a smoker causes a threefold increase in smoking risk, which means it’s a cause-and-effect relationship that’s much too large to ignore. Parents may have their own health-related issues that prompt them to consider leaving a smoking habit behind, and those who talk with their children about their own addictions and the methods they’re using to gain control might be of immense help to their children.

Getting Help

Teens who smoke may benefit from nicotine replacement therapies. But these should be closely managed by a health care professional. Not all nicotine replacement products made for adults are safe for teens to take, and a doctor should be firmly in charge of a teen’s dosing schedule. Therapies like this provide only part of the puzzle. But, as teens will also need to learn more about how to keep their cravings in check so they can avoid the urge to relapse in the future. Teens who use drugs, as well as nicotine, might also need advanced therapies, so they can learn how to control their urges to use drugs.

At Newport Academy, we can provide this help. Our approach helps teens recover from the physical component of addiction. Please call us, and let us help you to determine if we provide the right kind of care to help your teen.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.