“I don’t know if it’s peer pressure or what, but I do think people are smoking a lot more than they used to.”
– Travis, age 16
After years of dramatic declines in the number of teen smokers, experts say that decline might be reaching a plateau.
“[This change] obviously raises a lot of concern for us,” says Corinne Husten, M.D., the Acting Director with the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A casual survey of teenagers seems to confirm the news.
“Most of my friends smoke,” says 18-year-old Arien.
“More people doing it,” adds Travis, “more people asking you for a cigarette.”
“Everyone I know smokes or whatever,” explains 17-year-old Teri.
In fact, the study finds that 20 percent of teens have smoked a cigarette in the last 30 days. And more than 50 percent have tried smoking.
Experts say a big reason for the change in smoking rates among teenagers is that less money has been spent on anti-smoking campaigns than in recent years – and that many kids aren’t getting that message.
“Right now only four states are funding their tobacco control programs at the minimum level recommended by the CDC,” explains Dr. Husten.
It’s all the more important, she says, that kids hear an anti-smoking message at home.
But often, that’s not the case.
“A lot of time parents I think have a laissez-faire attitude toward tobacco,” says Dr. Husten, “They say ‘well it’s not hard drugs, they’re not drinking and driving’. But actually tobacco is highly addictive; the kids experiment, they’re hooked on it before they even realize that, and then they spend their lives trying to stop.”
She says parents should talk regularly about the dangers of cigarettes, and “reinforcing that by saying we aren’t going to allow smoking in our home, we are going to go to smoke-free restaurants. So it’s not like the parent’s saying, well, this is bad for you but it’s okay for me. It’s saying this is something none of us should be doing.”
Tips for Parents
Research shows that a vast majority of smokers began when they were children or teenagers. While recent legislation has helped reduce smoking, it still remains an important health concern. Consider the following statistics from the U.S. Surgeon General:
Approximately 80 percent of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18.
More than 5 million children living today will die prematurely because of a decision they make as adolescents – the decision to smoke cigarettes.
An estimated 2.1 million people began smoking on a daily basis in 1997. More than half of these new smokers were younger than 18. This boils down to every day, 3,000 young people under the age of 18 becoming regular smokers.
Nearly all first uses of tobacco occur before high school graduation.
Most young people who smoke are addicted to nicotine and report that they want to quit but are unable to do so.
Tobacco is often the first drug used by young people who use alcohol and illegal drugs.
Among young people, those with poorer grades and lower self-image are most likely to begin using tobacco.
Over the past decade, there has been virtually no decline in smoking rates among the general teen population. Among black adolescents, however, smoking has declined dramatically.
Young people who come from low-income families and have fewer than two adults living in their household are especially at risk for becoming smokers.
Encourage your child to join an anti-smoking group and support him/her in kicking the habit. If you are currently a smoker, you should also try to stop. Children look to their parents for support and strength; taking the anti-smoking journey alongside your child can be a huge benefit. In addition to attending the meetings, The Foundation for a Smoke-Free America offers these suggestions:
Develop deep-breathing techniques. Every time you want a cigarette, do the following three times: Inhale the deepest breath of air you can and then, very slowly, exhale. Purse your lips so that the air must come out slowly. As you exhale, close your eyes, and let your chin gradually drop to your chest. Visualize all the tension leaving your body, slowly draining out of your fingers and toes — just flowing on out. This technique will be your greatest weapon during the strong cravings smokers feel during the first few days of quitting.
During the first week, drink lots of water and healthy fluids to flush out the nicotine and other toxins from your body.
Remember that the urge to smoke only lasts a few minutes, and then it will pass. The urges gradually become further and further apart as the days go by.
Do your very best to stay away from alcohol, sugar and coffee the first week (or longer) as these tend to stimulate the desire for a cigarette. Also, avoid fatty foods, as your metabolism may slow down a bit without the nicotine, and you may gain weight even if you eat the same amount as before quitting. Discipline regarding your diet is extra important now.
Nibble on low calorie foods like celery, apples and carrots. Chew gum or suck on cinnamon sticks.
Stretch out your meals. Eat slowly and pause between bites.
After dinner, instead of a cigarette, treat yourself to a cup of mint tea or a peppermint candy. Keep in mind, however, that in one study, while 25 percent of quitters found that an oral substitute was helpful, another 25 percent didn’t like the idea at all – they wanted a clean break with cigarettes. Find what works for you.
Go to a gym, exercise, and/or sit in the steam of a hot shower. Change your normal routine – take a walk or even jog around the block or in a local park. Get a massage. Pamper yourself.
Ask for support from coworkers, friends and family members. Ask for their tolerance. Let them know you’re quitting, and that you might be edgy or grumpy for a few days. If you don’t ask for support, you certainly won’t get any. If you do, you’ll be surprised how much it can help.
Ask friends and family members not to smoke in your presence. Don’t be afraid to ask. This is more important than you may realize.
On your “quit day,” remove all ashtrays and destroy all your cigarettes, so you have nothing to smoke.
If you need someone to talk to, call the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-Quit. Proactive counseling services by trained personnel are provided in sessions both before and after quitting smoking.
Find a chat room online, with people trying to quit smoking. It can be a great source of support, much like a Nicotine Anonymous meeting, but online.
Attend your anti-smoking meetings. If there are no meetings in your city, try calling (800) 642-0666, or check the Nicotine Anonymous website link below. There you can also find out how to start your own meeting. It’s truly therapeutic to see how other quitters are doing as they strive to stop smoking.
Write down ten good things about being a nonsmoker and ten bad things about smoking.
Don’t pretend smoking wasn’t enjoyable. Quitting smoking can be like losing a good friend – and it’s okay to grieve the loss. Feel that grief.
Several times a day, quietly repeat to yourself the affirmation, “I am a nonsmoker.” Many quitters see themselves as smokers who are just not smoking for the moment. They have a self-image as smokers who still want a cigarette. Silently repeating the affirmation “I am a nonsmoker” will help you change your view of yourself. Even if it seems silly to you, this is actually useful.
Here is perhaps the most valuable information among these points: During the period that begins a few weeks after quitting, the urge to smoke will subside considerably. However, it’s vital to understand that from time to time, you will still be suddenly overwhelmed with a desire for “just one cigarette.” This will happen unexpectedly, during moments of stress, whether negative stress or positive (at a party, or on vacation). Be prepared to resist this unexpected urge, because succumbing to that “one cigarette” will lead you directly back to smoking. Remember the following secret: during these surprise attacks, do your deep breathing and hold on for five minutes; the urge will pass.
Do not try to go it alone. Get help, and plenty of it.
American Cancer Society
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Foundation for a Smoke-Free America