Tobacco and Teens

Teen Smoking Image

According to the American Lung Association®, smoking during adolescence causes serious health problems in young people and often results in a lifelong addiction. It may be hard to believe, but almost 70 percent of adult smokers report that they started smoking before the age of 18, and about 85 percent started before 21. Most people who smoke try their first cigarette when they're around 11 years old, and many are addicted to tobacco by the age of 14.

Young people who smoke are at risk for severe respiratory illnesses, decreased lung function, and decreased physical fitness levels. People who start smoking when they are teenagers and continue to smoke are five times more likely to have a heart attack in their 30s or 40s than nonsmokers and are at high risk for lung diseases and cancer. Smoking also yellows the teeth, causes bad breath, and prematurely ages the skin.

Most elementary school-aged children say they will never smoke—but as the get older, many change their minds. Every day in the United States, approximately 3,900 children and teens under the age of 18 try their first cigarette. Of these, about 950 will become regular smokers, and about half of those who do will eventually die of tobacco-related causes. One important goal of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (passed in 2009) is to prevent young people from smoking.

There are a number of reasons young people start smoking, including the following:

  • Having one or more parent(s) who smoke(s)
  • Having a friend who smokes and/or encourage them to smoke
  • Being exposed to tobacco marketing and advertising (e.g., smoking in movies)
Most teenagers who smoke say they would like to be able to quit, but aren't able to do so.

Teens and Flavored Cigars/Cigarettes

In October 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 40 percent of middle and high school students who smoke use either flavored cigarettes or flavored little cigars. This is especially concerning because studies show that almost 60 percent of young people who use these products are not thinking about quitting smoking.

Although the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act prevents the use of flavors (except menthol) in cigarettes, little cigars are still sold with candy and fruit flavorings and are state taxed at a lower rate than cigarettes. According to the CDC, little cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes and contain the same toxic, cancer-causing ingredients.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 24 Oct 2013

Last Modified: 28 Oct 2013