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Teenagers: Risks and Myths Associated With Teen Smoking

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When parents worry about the addictions their teens might succumb to during high school, chances are drug and alcohol problems are at the top of the list. But it’s important not to forget the risks associated with teen tobacco use. There are major short-term, and long-term, problems that early tobacco addicts face. While smoking and other forms of tobacco are known as “gateways” to more serious drugs, teen smokers are also putting their bodies at risk for future ailments that will follow them into adulthood.

Almost all smokers form their tobacco addiction very early in life. According to the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 90 percent of all adult smokers began while in their teens, or earlier, and two-thirds became regular, daily smokers before they reached the age of 19.

If you want to give your teen the best chance of remaining heart-healthy and cancer free as an adult, you must make smoking a serious offense in your home. If you’re reading this, and you have a teenager in your life, you already know “because I said so” rarely works. So arm yourself with these statistics to help debunk your teen’s – and maybe even your own – most commonly believed myths about smoking. 

Myths About Smoking

Myth 1: “Smoking Helps Me Relax.” 

Not even close. According to a review of psychological studies featured in the American Psychological Association’s American Psychologist, nicotine has been shown to actually intensify stress among smokers.

Myth 2: “I’m Too Young to Get Sick from Smoking.”

When it comes to the health risks associated with smoking, age is nothing but a number. According to the American Cancer Society, common health problems among early smokers include damage to the lungs, diminished ability to smell and taste and premature aging of the skin. 

Myth 3: “I Just Want to Try It, I Won’t Get Addicted.”

The truth is that almost all smokers today started by just trying it once. According to the American Cancer Society, anyone who starts smoking can become addicted to nicotine, and may have difficulty quitting over the long-term.

Myth 4: “I’m Just a Social Smoker.”

Unfortunately, occasional smokers do not reduce any of the risks associated with tobacco use, simply by smoking fewer cigarettes than serious addicts. The potential negative outcomes described in the above myths still apply.

Myth 5: “Fine, I’ll Quit. On My Own.” 

Many teens believe that quitting tobacco is easy and doesn’t require parental involvement, much less professional guidance. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 82 percent of 11 to 19 year olds who do smoke think about quitting. They simply lack the tools and support network to achieve success. The Youth Tobacco Initiative reports that 3 out of every 4 adolescent smokers that have tried to quit smoking have failed.

Being able to debunk these common teen smoking myths is one way to prepare yourself for a useful conversation about tobacco use with your child. But even parents whose teens are already frequent tobacco users need to know that it’s never too late to intervene.

One thing I’ve learned about working with adolescents in my 20 years as a counselor is that there’s always a way in and parents can connect their teen to cessation programs specifically for young people. By providing a support network, real-life tools, and focusing on taking “baby steps” to quitting through reduction, I’ve seen many hard-to-crack teens leave tobacco behind for good.

 How do you connect with your child? Do you schedule a specific time when you and your children can talk?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Mylene Krzanowski is the executive director of Student Assistance Services at Caron Treatment Centers. Caron’s teen tobacco cessation and reduction program, Project CONNECT, has helped more than 600,000 teens in 13 states get on the path to tobacco freedom since 2001.

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