We all know tobacco use is bad for our health. We’ve heard it over and over, again. And we’ve told our children the same thing. Still, children and teens are curious about it, and many will at the very least, try it. And that’s why it is important to take every precaution to protect our youth from the harmful effects of tobacco usage.
The holidays and coming New Year are as good a times as any to remind students, parents, and caregivers about this important topic. Because of tobacco marketing and social, physical, and environmental influences, middle and high school aged children in particular are susceptible to tobacco use. Parents of these students in particular should be prepared to reinforce how addictive tobacco products can be, even if the student only wants to “see what it’s like.” Those who try tobacco are likely those with easy access to it, have friends or siblings who also use, watch movies with smoking in them, are not doing well in school, are uninvolved in school or extracurricular activities, or who use other substances as well (CDC).
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Today’s tobacco products deliver more nicotine and deliver it quicker than ever before.” Thus, the attitude that experimenting with tobacco is normal, and the child will grow out of it is not a plausible argument, given tobacco’s addictiveness. In fact, “Youth are especially sensitive to nicotine and can feel dependent earlier than adults. Because of their addiction, about three out of four teen smokers end up smoking into adulthood, even if they intend to quit after a few years.”
The CDC notes that because teens are so quickly addicted, they often then suffer from a lifetime of serious health problems. “The best way for parents to protect their children from tobacco-related health problems (including asthma, heart disease, cancer, and lung damage) is to prevent tobacco use altogether.”
Most people associate tobacco use with long-term health issues that crop up later in life, but it’s important to also note the damage it can do early in life. The CDC points out the following three most common issues seen in young users:
· Stronger addiction
· Early cardiovascular damage (seen as young as 15 years old)
· Permanent lung damage, due to slowing lung growth
While kicking the nicotine habit is extremely difficult, and many give up trying, the CDC statistics speak for themselves:
· Today, 46 million Americans still smoke.
· More than 70% want to quit and have not been able to.
· Nearly 500,000 people die from smoking every year.
· Of those that die, they die on average 13 years before their nonsmoking peers.
· For every smoker who dies, 20 more smokers live with at least one serious chronic disease due to smoking.
· More than 3.6 million middle and high school students smoke cigarettes, and one of three of those will die from a tobacco related disease.
The only hope to curb these statistics is prevention. Research shows 90% of smokers start before 18, while nearly no one starts after age 25. Teens are impressionable in every way, and tobacco use is no different. We have to make certain children and teens are aware of the consequences of tobacco use to themselves, both short and long term, as well as the impact their usage can have on others around them. Their using tobacco may encourage their friends or siblings to do so, and their second hand smoke can harm those around them.
The CDC recommends the following steps to prevent tobacco use in children:
· Emphasize how dangerous and addictive smoking and all tobacco products are
· Make your home and car tobacco-free for everyone
· Ensure your children know they are expected to be tobacco-free
· Have the doctor discuss the health issues with the child
· Encourage extracurricular school, church, or community activities
· Avoid watching TV, movies, or video games with tobacco use
· Find out the community stance on tobacco reduction policies
· Set a good example by not using tobacco yourself