Smoking is one of the worst things kids or adults can do to
their bodies. Yet every single day about 4,000 kids between the
ages 12 and 17 start smoking. Most middle school students don't
smoke - only about 1 in 10 does. And most high school students
don't smoke either - about 1 in 4 does (that means 3 out of 4
But why do those who smoke ever begin?
There's more than just one simple answer. Some kids may
start smoking just because they're curious. Others may like the
idea of doing something dangerous - something grownups don't
want them to do. Still others might know lots of people who smoke
and they might think it's a way to act or look like an adult.
Fortunately, fewer people are starting smoking than a few years
Maybe that's because more and more people have learned that
smoking and tobacco use can cause cancer and
. But sometimes kids can't really think that far into the
future to worry about an illness they might not get for many
So let's talk about the problems that might affect kids more
- yellow teeth
- smelly clothes
- difficulty keeping up with friends when playing sports
- empty wallet - cigarettes and tobacco products are very
Let's find out more about cigarettes and tobacco.
What Are Smoking and Smokeless Tobacco?
Tobacco (say: tuh-
-ko) is a plant that can be smoked in cigarettes, pipes, or cigars.
It's the same plant that's in smokeless tobacco, known as
dip, chew, snuff, spit, or chewing tobacco. Smokeless tobacco is
not lit or inhaled like tobacco in cigarettes, pipes, and cigars.
Instead, smokeless tobacco is put between the lip and gum and
sucked on inside the mouth.
Tobacco contains nicotine (say:
-kuh-teen), a chemical that causes a tingly or pleasant feeling -
but that feeling only lasts for a little while. Nicotine is also
addictive (say: uh-
-tiv). That means that if you start to use nicotine, your body and
mind will become so used to it that you'll need to have it just
to feel OK.
Anyone who starts smoking could become addicted to it. If
you're addicted to something, it's very hard to stop doing
it, even if you want to. Some kids get addicted right away. And
adults are often addicted, which is why so many of them have a hard
time quitting smoking.
Why Is It So Bad for You?
Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco kill hundreds of thousands of
Americans every year. You know those rubber bracelets that were
created to bring attention to different causes? The Campaign for
Tobacco-Free Kids created a red one with the number 1,200 on it.
Why 1,200? That's the number of people who die each day due to
The nicotine and other poisonous chemicals in tobacco cause lots
of diseases, like heart problems and some kinds of cancer. If you
smoke, you hurt your
and heart each time you light up. It also can make it more
difficult for blood to move around in the body, so smokers may feel
tired and cranky. The longer you smoke, the worse the damage
The Other Cost of Smoking
Using tobacco eats up a lot of money, too. A pack of cigarettes
costs $4.50, on average. That means, even if you buy just one pack
a week, you'll spend $234 in a year. Some people smoke a pack a
day, which adds up to $1,642! That's a lot of CDs, computer
games, and clothes you could buy instead.
What's It Like?
Usually, people don't like smoking or chewing tobacco at
first. Your body is smart, and it knows when it's being
poisoned. When people try smoking for the first time, they often
cough a lot and feel pain or burning in their throat and lungs.
This is your lungs' way of trying to protect you and tell you
to keep them smoke free. Also, many people say that they feel sick
to their stomachs or even throw up. If someone accidentally
swallows chewing tobacco, they may be sick for hours. Yuck.
What if My Friend Smokes?
If you have friends who smoke or use tobacco, you can help them
by encouraging them to quit. Here are some reasons you can
- It will hurt their health.
- It will make their breath stinky.
- It will turn their teeth yellow.
- It will give them less endurance when running or playing
- It's expensive.
- It's illegal to buy cigarettes when you're
If you think it will help, you could print out articles like
this one to give to a friend who smokes. He or she may be
interested in learning more about the dangers of smoking. But
people don't like to hear that they're doing something
wrong, so your pal also could be a little angry. If that
happens, don't push it too much. In time, your friend may
realize you are right.
In the meantime, it could help to talk with a parent or a school
counselor if you're worried about your friend. When your friend
is ready, a grown-up can help him or her quit for good. If your
friend decides to quit, lend your support. You might say it's
time to kick some butts!
Neil Izenberg, MD
Date reviewed: August 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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