– Renee, 15
Some teenagers think the only danger in smoking cigarettes is lung cancer. But new research shows that smoking may cause irreversible damage to the brain.
I tried it because I thought it was cool,” says Renee, 15.
Renee started smoking cigarettes in the 4th grade.
“I started smoking cigarettes when I was 10, I started smoking weed and drinking when I was 13, I started doing crystal [methamphetamine] when I was 14, I started doing cocaine when I was 15.”
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, teens who start smoking at a young age are three times more likely to binge drink, 13 times more likely to smoke marijuana, and seven times more likely to use cocaine or heroin.
Recent studies may shed light on this type of behavior. In experiments with rats, results show that nicotine exposure changes brain receptors -- increasing the desire for other addictive drugs.
“Our experiment would suggest that just one exposure to nicotine, the active component of tobacco, can produce a long-term change in the behavior of the animal that probably results in a change in the brain,” says Frances Leslie, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology.
“It’s hard at the moment to know how that translates into human behavior, but I think that it’s unquestionable that there will be changes in behavior as a result of early smoking,” says Leslie. “And it’s quite logical to believe that one of those changes in behavior might be increased drug use … drugs like cocaine and amphetamines and heroin.”
Now in rehab, Renee takes her addiction one day at a time.
“Because recovery is your whole life if you’re an addict, you have to do it until the day you die,” says Renee.
Tips for Parents
The majority of teens -- a total of 82 percent -- do not smoke.
Cigarettes are stimulants. Within seven seconds of inhaling on a cigarette, the nicotine reaches your brain, stimulating the nervous system, increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure and constricting small blood vessels under the skin.
Nicotine in cigarettes is as addictive as cocaine and heroin. It is difficult to quit once you are addicted.
Ninety-eight percent of smokers start before the age of 17.
The majority of “experimenters” go on to a lifetime of smoking.
Teens most commonly report that they start to smoke because "it's cool" (60%) or because of the behavior of friends (57%).
Almost twice as many females (15%) than males (8%) stated "weight control" as a perceived reason that youth start to smoke.
Kids often use smoking to:
Manage their moods – to calm nerves and ease stress, sort out their thoughts, relieve boredom, gear up for a social event, or to "zone out" from their troubles.
Look and feel older – if friends smoke, they may feel left behind on a journey that looks grown-up and adventurous. Media contributes to this idea.
Fit in and find friends - Cigarettes can be borrowed and traded and used to build friendships.
Studies show that parents, even those who smoke, can and do have an impact on whether their children smoke.
Talk about your own experiences with smoking or not smoking, and what smoking means to you.
Talk about family members with smoking-related illnesses.
Ask your kids what smoking means to them. Listen. Be patient.
Provide hard facts that may make them think twice about smoking.
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
Chronic Disease & Injury Prevention Team at the Middlesex-London Health Unit