There's no denying that smoking, vaping, and using other tobacco products has absolutely devastating consequences on your health. The science is clear, and there's no refuting that fact. Tobacco products are still legal, however, despite the overwhelming evidence of the danger of using them. There are age restrictions on who can buy and use tobacco products in all states, with some states recently moving to change the legal age to 21 (up 3 years from 18).
But that, unfortunately, has not stopped teens all over the country from using tobacco products. Whether it's cigarettes or vaping or another type of tobacco product, there are health risks and hazards associated with all forms of teen smoking or tobacco use. Here's what you need to know about those risks, and how to break the habit earlier rather than later.
What types of tobacco products are teens using?
In 2012, the CDC found that 7% of middle schoolers and 23% of high schoolers reported using a tobacco product. Before the rise of vaping (more commonly known as Juuling), that typically meant cigarettes or hookah. But recently, vaping has been a hot button issue among parents, specifically for how it's being marketed to teens.
While cigarette use among teens is at historic lows, vaping is on the rise. Many teens erroneously believe that vaping isn't as bad for them as smoking cigarettes. The liquids used in vape pens or other devices still contain nicotine, as well as other chemicals that are dangerous to a person's health. The liquids are typically flavored like candy or fruit, which make them more appealing to teens.
What are the risks of teen smoking or vaping?
We talk a lot about the long-term effects of smoking, and we should absolutely continue to educate people about them. But when it comes to teens, who live very much in the moment and don't necessarily think long-term, it's helpful to educate them on the immediate effects of smoking or using other nicotine and tobacco products. Smoking or using other tobacco products can result in decreased physical fitness, an increased risk of heart disease, poor oral hygiene, and skin problems like discoloration, premature wrinkles, and skin damage.
Long term, the effects of teen smoking can be even more devastating. The developing nature of their brains makes them more susceptible to nicotine addiction, and continued use of nicotine products can lead to emphysema, pulmonary disease, heart disease, and lung cancer. Nicotine can also affect a teen's moods and behavior.
How can you talk to your teen about smoking and using tobacco products?
We know that parents don't want to come off as the bad guy or seem "uncool". But this is one area where you should put your foot down, and keep it down, and keep the conversation open at all times. Teens are susceptible to peer pressure, and in many cases have poor impulse control and/or less-than-stellar decision making skills. And in many cases, all it takes is one puff of a cigarette or vape for them to be hooked.
Be as honest as possible with your teen about the ramifications and negative effects of smoking on their health, both physically and mentally. Remind them that smoking can put them at risk for getting sick more often, particularly if they have asthma or other lung problems. Emphasis that secondhand smoke is also incredibly damaging, and every time they smoke around friends, they're hurting them, too. Smoking can impact their physical appearance (which we know a lot of teens care deeply about!). Nicotine has been shown to affect brain development, especially when it comes to memory and attention span. And each puff of a cigarette or vape they take reduces their life expectancy, which is heartbreaking considering their lives are just getting started.
As adults who know better, it's easy for us to preach about the negative effects of smoking. And it can be very frustrating when our teens don't listen to us! But we also understand and remember (vaguely) what it was like to be a teenager. Be involved in their lives, and talk to them about the things you know are affecting them. If things have moved beyond your control, don't hesitate to ask your doctor or another trusted professional for help. We want to make sure our kids are healthy and are around for a very, very long time.