Youth Smoking: Keeping the Next Generation Smoke-Free

Most smokers get started as teenagers, most will continue to smoke through into adulthood, and sadly, some of them will die. This is why understanding the causes of youth smoking and how to tackle it is essential.

According to the Surgeon General, 9 out of every 10 smokers have their first cigarette before the age of 18. Not only do these teenagers expose themselves to all of the ordinary risks of smoking – including cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and more – the damage starts to take root much sooner. Youth smokers often have early signs of damage to the heart and blood vessels, and smoking as a teenager stunts the growth of your lungs, possibly leading to life-long issues due to a reduced lung capacity. Finally, the teenage brain is particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction, so around three out of four youth smokers continue into adulthood. For all of these reasons, one of the biggest priorities in creating a tobacco-free world is preventing youth tobacco use.

Youth Smoking Statistics: How Many Teenagers Smoke?

Youth smoking statistics provide insight into how big the problem of smoking among youth really is. In 2015, the CDC reports that around 2 out of every 100 middle school students had smoked in the past 30 days, and for high school students the figure is 9 out of 100 students. For comparison, the smoking rate among adults is currently 16.8%, so while youth smoking is less common than adult smoking, it’s still a big problem.

The good news is that youth smoking has declined in recent years. For middle school students, the smoking rate has declined by almost half since 2011, and for high school students it’s declined by over 40% since 2011. This trend is very positive, but continued effort is required to ensure the declines continue.

The Causes of Teenage Smoking

Understanding the causes of teenage smoking is essential to reducing smoking among youth even further in the coming years. The issue is complicated, but there are many indications of what causes youths to smoke, and these insights give clues into how we can go about eliminating youth tobacco use in the future.

Youth Smoking and Parental Influence

One of the biggest influences on teen smoking is the behavior of their parents. If you smoke, then your children are more likely to smoke too. This has been supported by several studies, and one example estimates that children of parents who smoke are twice as likely to start smoking between the ages of 13 and 21 in comparison to children of non-smoking parents. Other research has shown that while other sources of influence get less important as children age, their parents’ influence remains relatively stable.

This means that if you have a child, stopping smoking will go a long way to helping your children stay smoke-free too. The problem is that your child looks up to you, especially as a model of what it means to be an adult, and he or she is more likely to do the things that you do as they grow up. In short, the impression you give to your children matters. Quit smoking, and if you can’t, try not to smoke around your kid and emphasize how you want to quit and how difficult it is.

Peer and Other Influences on Youth Smoking

As most people know, peer pressure also plays an essential role in the establishment of youth smoking. If your teen has friends (or siblings) who smoke, he or she is more likely to smoke than teens who don’t have friends that smoke. The research quoted in the previous section suggests that the influence of your kid’s friends actually declines a little in high school in comparison to in middle school, but it is still an important factor.

Other factors also have a role to play in youth smoking, such as smoking in video games, TV and movies, as well as smoking in the wider community. These factors can be hard to control, though, so parents need to ensure that they provide clear messages on the risks of smoking and serve as positive role models.

How to Tackle Youth Smoking

This article has only touched on a couple of the main influences on youth smoking, but it does suggest several strategies to help bring down the youth smoking rate. Firstly, ensure your teen has positive role models, particularly yourself and your partner. If your teen smokes, encourage him or her to quit, and you can also help them practice some strategies for resisting peer pressure. Finally, you should ensure they have a thorough understanding of the risks of smoking.

Overall, the most important thing you can do as a parent is be a positive role model and make your opposition to smoking clear to your son or daughter, as well as the reasons for it. Along with continued policy changes, taxes on cigarettes and educational campaigns, these continued efforts will help to bring the youth smoking rate down even further.