Top 5 Reasons Teens Start Smoking

According to the American Lung Association, teens start smoking for 5 reasons:

1. They have parents, adults or guardians who smoke

If you are the parent, guardian or relative of a teen and you smoke, this may be difficult to hear, but you are the biggest influence on whether your child smokes or not.  Although peer pressure is a close second, you are the most influential person in their life.  They look to you to learn what is “normal” and “mature.”  Teens will also learn that smoking helps adults reduce stress, relax, stay awake or enjoy themselves. All messages that are not helpful in deterring a teen from smoking.

In addition to modeling smoking as a normal behavior, many current smokers do not discuss the dangers of smoking with their teens.  If you are unsure how to start, try the following:

  • Talk to your kids about your smoking habits, and the dangers of smoking.
  • Ask them what they think about smoking, what they have heard from their friends, and if they think it’s ok.
  • Finally, limit the amount you smoke in front of your children. It is not wise to hide your habit, but show them that it is not normal or convenient.

If you are the parent of a teen and are ready to quit, we want to offer you resources to help you. Visit our breathe page to find out more.

2. Peer pressureteen boy lighting cigarette

According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Nearly 9 out of 10 smokers started smoking by age 18, and 99% started by age 26”

Teens in middle and high school experience an acute form of peer pressure that is very real.  Many preteens and teenagers try desperately to fit in with groups of friends, be well-liked, cool, and part of the “in” crowd.  They are also trying to develop a sense of independence apart from their family. These two pulls are helping teens create their social identity.  Tobacco use is one of many choices your student will make during these formative years.  How they respond to peer pressure is what will determine if they use tobacco or pass.  Helping your teen navigate peer pressure early on in their preteen or teenage years will give them a secured sense of independence, as well as the confidence to say no to dangerous pressures.

3. To show independence or defiance

Most teenagers go through a period of time where they are exerting their personal freedom, showing they can make adult decisions and  be responsible for their own choices.  This is a healthy and normal process for all young adults, however, if they are incrementally exposed to making adult decisions, they can become defiant.  Defiance is often a motivating factor for teens to start smoking, especially if they believe their parents will be angry with them. One way to combat this is to talk openly about tobacco, be level headed about the dangers and your desire for your children not to smoke, and if they already smoke, offer support if they wish to quit.

4. They believe everyone else is smoking

Teenagers tend to believe what their friends tell them, for good or bad. Often there is a gross overestimation of how many people are doing one thing or another.  In the case of tobacco use, it is very common for junior high and high school students to overestimate how many people in their class are smoking, vaping, using pipes, etc.  According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, just “6.7% of middle school and 23.3% of high school students currently use tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, hookahs, snus, smokeless tobacco, pipes, bidis, kreteks, dissolvable tobacco, and electronic cigarettes.”  Although this number is larger than many would like, it is not everyone. In Orange County, the percentage is even lower, 9.7% of teens smoke, which means, 9 out of 10 teens DON’T smoke! Hooray! Assuring your teenager that there are other students their age that are not using tobacco products and encouraging them to make the same good decision is a great place to start.

5. Tobacco advertisements (pop culture)

Gone are the days of tobacco commercials, cigarette vending machines and print advertising, but somehow the message still gets across that “smoking is cool.”  Today, we find this messaging directed toward teens in television shows like Mad Men and Deadliest Catch; movies like Fight Club and Django Unchained; and video games like Grim Fandango and Metal Gear Solid.  The delivery systems may have changed, but the messaging and targeting effects are still the same.  The most effective way to combat what popular media is telling your teens is to regularly mention the dangers of smoking, ask them about their thoughts on the subject, and limit the amount of media they interact with that shows smoking in a positive light.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office on Smoking and Health, 2012 .

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