There are many legal products adults can consume that may negatively affect their health, including tobacco and alcohol. These products are restricted from use by those who are underage, yet many teenagers consume both alcohol and tobacco products each year. These products are enticing to teenagers for a number of different reasons. Ironically, these substances can be very addictive and damaging, yet drinking underage and/or using tobacco is seen as the “cool” thing to do. As a result, there is an ongoing cycle of increasing and decreasing tobacco use among teenagers.
One of the most potent substances in the tobacco plant is nicotine, which can have euphoric effects in small doses. Essentially, nicotine was naturally created by the tobacco plant as a way to defend itself from insects and other animals that would eat its leaves. Despite decades of warnings about tobacco use, many studies report that tobacco’s popularity has not suffered greatly among teenage users.
The National Library of Medicine published an article on Medline Plus titled Risks of Tobacco which provides some details about what happens when someone consumes tobacco. Smokers can develop heart and blood vessel problems such as blood clots, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and poor blood circulation to the legs. The risk of cancer significantly rises especially for the lungs, esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, and even cervix for women. However many of those diseases are seen as something seniors and older people experience and few teenagers believe they too can be afflicted by these diseases.
Smoking and using tobacco products are bad habits for a large number of people. For many people, their first cigarette or dip of chewing tobacco can become a life-long habit that is very difficult to quit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a fact sheet titled Youth Tobacco Use, which provides important statistics from different surveys and studies related to teenagers and tobacco. The fact sheet cited a study that found almost 90% of smokers started smoking by age 18 and 99% of smokers started before the age of 26.
The study found that at current rates, 5.6 million Americans under 18 are projected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness. The trend of young smokers is not decreasing at a rapid rate and new, younger smokers are replacing older smokers who quit, can’t smoke, or die. The CDC fact sheet also points out that everyday more than 3,000 people under 18 smoke their first cigarette. Another troubling statistic points out that 6% of middle school and 23% of high school students use tobacco including cigarettes, cigars, hookahs, electronic cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco. This means that a large portion of teenagers and young adults are being introduced to tobacco products, even though it’s illegal to sell tobacco products to those under the age of 18.
Smoking can be a form of socializing. According to the CDC fact sheet mentioned above, some studies and surveys have found that someone who has friends and family who smoke are more likely to smoke, if their social and physical environments portray it as the norm. Although there is no proof or correlation between tobacco use and drug use, both can quickly develop into strong addictions which can greatly harm someone’s health.