Ever hear someone say they were just a “social smoker,” that they only smoke when they are out with friends? They probably don’t smoke when they are alone, at least not yet. Many teens believe that the couple of cigarettes they smoke with friends after school or on the weekend are not doing any damage. They believe they can quit anytime. The teens don’t understand the addictive nature of the beast called nicotine or the health hazards building in their bodies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a quarter of all high school students in the U.S. smoke. About two-thirds of those teen smokers started out as social smokers. Many don’t understand that even brief, nondaily tobacco use triggers nicotine dependence. Those one or two cigarettes quickly escalate as exposure to nicotine creates cravings. The cravings increase cigarette use, which increase withdrawal symptoms. Every cigarette increases the chance of addiction even when there are days or weeks between each one. The vicious cycle has began.
Nicotine changes the brain, and the neural connections needed to create an addiction develop more easily in a young, growing brain. Young smokers can get hooked on nicotine faster and the addiction is stronger. The younger you start smoking, the higher the chance you will be unable to stop. Tobacco companies know this information. You don’t get an adult in their 30s to start smoking, you get a teenager because once hooked, it is more difficult for them to quit. Nearly 81% of teens who smoke fail to stop on their first attempt.
Using adult methods of treatment on teenagers for smoking addiction haven’t proven effective. Teens can become addicted to low levels of nicotine. The patches, sprays and medications offered to adult smokers to treat their nicotine addiction deliver a higher level of nicotine that ultimately creates dependence in a younger user.
Many teens start smoking because their parents smoke. Others start smoking to fit in with their social circle. Researchers have found when teens change their social circle and the triggers that cause them to light up, they have a higher chance to kick their habit. They feel better about themselves and feel more in control.
Teaching young people the truth about tobacco and the health effects associated with it can help them decide whether or not to use tobacco, or to seek help in quitting. Educators in Florida have a free, on-line course they can take at their own pace to teach tobacco prevention and intervention to their students. This course can provide up to 60 teacher in-service points. Check out our site to get started: www.tobaccopreventiontraining.org.
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