When your parents were young, people could buy cigarettes and smoke pretty much anywhere — even in hospitals! Ads for cigarettes were all over the place. Today we're more aware about how bad smoking is for our health. Smoking is restricted or banned in almost all public places and cigarette companies are no longer allowed to advertise on TV, radio, and in many magazines.
Almost everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, emphysema, and heart disease; that it can shorten your life by 10 years or more; and that the habit can cost a smoker thousands of dollars a year. So how come people are still lighting up? The answer, in a word, is addiction.
Smoking is a hard habit to break because tobacco contains nicotine, which is highly addictive. Like heroin or other addictive drugs, the body and mind quickly become so used to the nicotine in cigarettes that a person needs to have it just to feel normal.
People start smoking for a variety of different reasons. Some think it looks cool. Others start because their family members or friends smoke. Statistics show that about 9 out of 10 tobacco users start before they're 18 years old. Most adults who started smoking in their teens never expected to become addicted. That's why people say it's just so much easier to not start smoking at all.
There are no physical reasons to start smoking. The body doesn't need tobacco the way it needs food, water, sleep, and exercise. And many of the chemicals in cigarettes, like nicotine and cyanide, are actually poisons that can kill in high enough doses.
The body is smart. It goes on the defense when it's being poisoned. First-time smokers often feel pain or burning in the throat and lungs, and some people feel sick or even throw up the first few times they try tobacco.
The consequences of this poisoning happen gradually. Over the long term, smoking leads people to develop health problems like heart disease, stroke, emphysema (breakdown of lung tissue), and many types of cancer — including lung, throat, stomach, and bladder cancer. People who smoke also have an increased risk of infections like bronchitis and pneumonia.
These diseases limit a person's ability to be normally active, and they can be fatal. In the United States, smoking is responsible for about 1 out of 5 deaths.
Smokers not only develop wrinkles and yellow teeth, they also lose bone density, which increases their risk of osteoporosis, a condition that causes older people to become bent over and their bones to break more easily. Smokers also tend to be less active than nonsmokers because smoking affects lung power.
Smoking can also cause fertility problems and can impact sexual health in both men and women. Girls who are on the pill or other hormone-based methods of birth control (like the patch or the ring) increase their risk of serious health problems, such as heart attacks, if they smoke.
The consequences of smoking may seem very far off, but long-term health problems aren't the only hazard of smoking. Nicotine and the other toxins in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes can affect a person's body quickly, which means that teen smokers experience many of these problems:
It's not only cigarettes that get people dependent on tobacco. Hookahs, staples of Middle Eastern café society, are water pipes used to smoke tobacco through a hose with a tapered mouthpiece. There's a myth going around that hookahs are safer because the smoke is cooled when it passes through the water.
But take a look at the black, resinous gunk that builds up in a hookah hose. Some of that gets into users' mouths and lungs. Indeed, experts say hookahs are no safer than cigarettes — and since they don't have filters and people often use them for long periods, the health risks might be even greater. Hookahs are usually shared, so there's the additional risk from germs being passed around along with the pipe.
Also beware of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), which contain cancer-causing chemicals and other toxins, including a compound used in antifreeze. These battery-operated devices use cartridges filled with nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals and convert them into a vapor that's inhaled by the user.
E-cigarettes haven't been evaluated or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so they don't have to post the health warnings that nicotine replacement products or conventional cigarettes do. But there's no such thing as a safe nicotine product.
All forms of tobacco — cigarettes, pipes, cigars, hookahs, and smokeless tobacco — are hazardous. It doesn't help to substitute products that seem like they're better for you than regular cigarettes, such as e-cigarettes or filtered or low-tar cigarettes.
The only thing that really helps a person avoid the problems associated with smoking is staying smoke-free. This isn't always easy, especially if everyone around you is smoking and offering you cigarettes. It may help to have your reasons for not smoking ready for times you may feel the pressure, such as "I just don't like it" or "I want to stay in shape for soccer" (or football, basketball, or other sport).
The good news for people who don't smoke or who want to quit is that studies show that the number of teens who smoke has dropped dramatically. Today, about 20% of high school students smoke — which means 4 out of 5 don't.
If you do smoke and want to quit, you have lots of information and support available. Different approaches to quitting work for different people. For some, quitting cold turkey is best. Others find that a slower approach is the way to go. Some people find that it helps to go to a support group especially for teens. These are sometimes sponsored by local hospitals or organizations like the American Cancer Society. The Internet offers a number of good resources to help people quit smoking.
When quitting, it can be helpful to realize that the first few days are the hardest. So don't give up. Some people find they have a few relapses before they manage to quit for good.
Staying smoke-free will give you a whole lot more of everything — more energy, better performance, better looks, more money in your pocket, and in the long run, more life to live!
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2013
|Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Launched in September, 1995, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was created to protect young people from tobacco addiction. Contact them at: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids|
1400 Eye St.
Washington, DC 20005
|Smokefree.net The goal of the Smokefree.net is to win the right to breathe smokefree air, facilitate communication among smokefree advocates and key decision makers, and share information about the tobacco cartel.|
|American Cancer Society The American Cancer Society is the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy, and service. Call:(800) ACS-2345|
|Kick Butts Day The annual Kick Butts Day is the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids' annual celebration of youth advocacy, leadership and activism.|
|How to Quit This is an online version of the consumer guide titled You Can Quit Smoking. Originally produced by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, this brochure provides practical information and helpful tips for those who plan to quit smoking.|
|Secondhand Smoke Experts now know that breathing in someone else's secondhand smoke is hazardous to our health. Find out what you can do about it.|
|Smoking and Asthma If you have asthma, you probably know that smoking is risky because of how it affects the lungs. But did you know that secondhand smoke is also an asthma trigger?|
|How Can I Quit Smoking? Nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the United States is related to tobacco. Are you ready to kick the habit?|
|How Can I Help My Boyfriend Stop Smoking? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Stop Smoking: Your Personal Plan This interactive feature helps you come up with a plan to stop smoking.|
|Gum Disease Gum disease doesn't just happen to people your grandparents' age - it can happen to teens too. Get the details here.|
|Smokeless Tobacco Chewing or dipping: These terms are familiar to the millions of teens who use smokeless tobacco. If you're ready to quit or you want to learn more about smokeless tobacco, read this article.|
|Dealing With Addiction Find out what you can do if you think you or a friend has a drug or alcohol addiction - from recognizing the warning signs to suggestions to help you stay clean.|
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