Cigarettes and other tobacco products

“If smoking continues at the current rate among youth in this country, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness. That’s about 1 of every 13 Americans aged 17 years or younger alive today.” 

This statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is just an example of how important it is to prevent minors from start using cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18. Each day in the United States, more than 3,800 youth aged 18 years or younger smoke their first cigarette, and an additional 2,100 youth and young adults become daily cigarette smokers.

However, it is important to clarify that most teens and adults don’t smoke or use tobacco products. The 2014 Monitoring the Future Survey showed that 4 % of 8th-graders, 7.2% of 10th graders, and 13.6% of 12th-graders reported they had used cigarettes in the past month. These numbers represent a significant decrease from previous years.

Why are tobacco and cigarettes dangerous?

Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco such as cigars, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco contain many chemicals. The most popular of them is nicotine, which affects the pathways of the brain resulting in addiction, a compulsive need to smoke despite the negative health consequences. As if that wasn’t enough, many other chemicals are formed through the reactions that occur as the cigarette burns. As a result, cigarette smoke contains a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals, including ammonia, benzene, carbon monoxide, and tar, among many others.
Besides addiction, smoking also accounts for nearly 90% of lung cancer cases as well as other forms of cancer, such as cancer of the mouth, stomach and kidney. It also causes lung and respiratory problems, heart disease and cataracts, a condition in which the eye gets clouded. On average, adults who smoke die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.
But cigarettes not only affect those who smoke. Secondhand smoke, that is, exposure to smoke form tobacco products, also hurts non-smokers, as it increases the risk of many diseases such as asthma, respiratory infections, heart diseases or lung cancer.
Finally, tobacco use can also lead teens and adults to abuse other substances such as alcohol, marijuana and other illegal drugs.

Electronic Cigarettes (e-cigarettes)

e-cigaretteElectronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that produce flavored nicotine and other chemicals vapor that look like tobacco smoke and are usually promoted as “safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes”. These products are often made to look like normal cigarettes, cigars or pipes. That’s why these devices may be attractive to kids.

According with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Current e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014.

The 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey show that “current e-cigarette use (use on at least 1 day in the past 30 days) among high school students increased from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014, rising from approximately 660,000 to 2 million students. Among middle school students, current e-cigarette use more than tripled from 1.1 percent in 2013 to 3.9 percent in 2014—an increase from approximately 120,000 to 450,000 students.”

In April 2014, the CDC also informed that “the number of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014, and more than half of the calls involved young children under age 5, and about 42 percent of the poison calls involved people age 20 and older.”

Although they don’t produce tobacco smoke, e-cigarettes contain nicotine which means it could develop addiction in users. Also, according with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), another worry is that the “cartridges could be filled with substances other than nicotine, thus possibly serving as a new and potentially dangerous way to deliver other drugs”.

However, there is not sufficient information or clinical studies to know the health risks of using these devices or if the use these products are safer than normal cigarettes or other tobacco products.

Why do teens smoke or use other tobacco products?

One of the most important reasons is the example that teens receive from parents and relatives. When youth see that tobacco use is acceptable or normal, not only among their friends, but especially for their family members, they are more likely to smoke and use tobacco products.
For example, many immigrant and refugee families come from cultures that do not have a legal smoking age or the laws are not enforced. That’s why is normal for them to have a lack of knowledge about the dangerous health consequences and they may underestimate the dangers of smoking. When that happens, teens could feel free to use tobacco and even some adults could promote this wrong behavior.
Besides that, teens are constantly exposed to the way that mass media (TV, movies, music, Internet, advertisement) show tobacco use as a normal activity. There is also a strong connection between youth smoking and mental health issues, such as stress, depression or anxiety.
According with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other influences that affect youth tobacco use include lower socioeconomic status (lower income or education), lack of skills to resist influences, lack of support or involvement from parents, and accessibility or availability to get tobacco products.

How can parents prevent their children from smoke and/or use tobacco products?

  • Know the truth. Besides the risks and consequences of tobacco use you should know that most teens and adults don’t smoke or use tobacco products.
  • If you use tobacco the best step is to try to quit (See “Get help”). Meanwhile, don’t smoke or use tobacco in front of your children. Don’t offer it to them and keep all the tobacco products locked or in a secure location that your children will not easily find.
  • Talk with your children about the risks and consequences of tobacco use and how to refuse if someone offers it to them (See “How to talk with your children about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs “). It doesn’t matter if they are just kids because many start using tobacco by age 11 or before. Continue the dialogue through their high school years.
  • Also discuss with your kids about the false glamorization of tobacco in the media, including TV, movies, music, and magazines.
  • Know if your children’s friends use tobacco and what their parents think about it.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Youth and Tobacco Use”.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “Drug Facts: cigarettes and other tobacco products”.
  3. U.S Department of Health and Human Services. The Real Cost.
  4. National Institute on Drugs Abuse. “Drug Facts: Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products”.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Electronic Cigarettes (e-Cigarettes).
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Youth and Tobacco Use”.