For a Healthier Tomorrow: Ending Teenage Smoking

Today’s teens are the leaders of tomorrow’s world. Teenagers face a lot of challenges, and like teens that went before them, some turn to alcohol, drugs or tobacco to cope with these challenges. If we want to make a healthier, better tomorrow, ending teen smoking is a big priority. 

Teenagers – and children in general – are the future of our society, and more broadly of our planet. They will soon become the doctors that keep us healthy, the politicians that create policies and shape society, and the employees that keep the companies we depend on running. Like generations before them, they will bring a fresh perspective to the problems of today, imbued with hope, energy and new ideas, but they’ll also bring some problems too. If we want society to keep moving forwards, we need to protect our teens, and ending teenage smoking is one of the best ways to do this.

Teenagers: The Leaders of Tomorrow

If you have a teenage son or daughter, it may be difficult to really envision them and their friends as being in charge of the country. But within a couple of decades – when they’re done with school and college, and have been working for a while – the current generation will be approaching retirement and today’s teenagers will be ready to take the reins. This means one simple thing: if we want to make society better than it is today, we need to help today’s teenagers be better than yesterday’s teenagers. It’s a huge cliché, but it’s undeniably true that the children are our future.

Risks to Teenagers – Teen Smoking, Drug Use and Drinking

While teenagers face many different risks, alcohol, tobacco and drug use are three of the most serious. All of these pose risks to teens, both physically and psychologically.

The physical risks of teen smoking, drinking and drug use are the most well-known. Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, COPD and countless other health conditions, drinking can have a multitude of negative effects, including increasing your risk for various cancers and risking liver cirrhosis over the long-term and drugs pose a wide range of risks depending on the specific substance. In the most basic way, keeping teens free from drugs, alcohol and cigarettes protects their health and makes them more likely to live long, happy lives.

Psychologically, the harm may be harder to see, but it’s no less real. All of us – including children and teens – face stress, and all of us are at risk of depression, anxiety or other psychological issues. Although some drugs can make these conditions more likely, in general, the causation runs the other way around. If you’re struggling with stress or depression, you more likely to turn to drugs, alcohol or cigarettes as a “coping mechanism.”

The substances may provide short-term relief from the issue, but they don’t address the root causes. Instead, the problem gets worse without being really addressed, and teens learn to cope with psychology issues by using substances. This association opens them up for much more physical harm in the future, and – worst of all – won’t make them feel better.

Teen Smoking Statistics – How Close Are We to Ending Teen Smoking?

The good news is that teen smoking is declining. However, the problem is still a serious one, because in 2015, just over 9 % of teenagers reported smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days. This has decreased from 15.8 % in 2011, but it still represents a substantial number of teens. Additionally, hookah – another form of smoking that uses a water pipe – is getting more popular with teenagers, with about 7 % of high school students reporting using a hookah in the past 30 days.

The CDC estimates that if youth smoking continues at today’s rates, 5.6 million Americans under the age of 18 will die prematurely as a result of smoking-related illness. This shows that even if the percentages seem small, it can still equate to a lot of damage done across the country.

Reducing Teen Smoking for a Healthier Future

The priority for the protection of public health should be ending teen smoking. There are many strategies that are effective for achieving these goals at a governmental level, including raising cigarette taxes – because youth are most sensitive to price increases – continued education on the risks of smoking, maintaining existing smoke-free air laws and establishing new ones. Other strategies have also been suggested, including raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21.

For individual teens, the good news is that the same approaches that are effective for adults can also help teens quit smoking. This includes counseling, medications, nicotine patches and nicotine gums. Although smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes are also used by adults who want to quit smoking, they’re both illegal to purchase for youth, so teens are a little more limited in their options than adults.

However, with some hard work, support through difficult times when cravings are especially strong and any support they can get access to, we can help the coming generation become smoke-free before it’s too late.