Snuff Out Smoking
Posted 3/8/2017 by UHBlog
When teenagers light up a cigarette for the first time, most don't believe they are on their way to becoming lifelong addicts. “One cigarette won’t hurt me,” they think. Yet, each day, 400 kids under the age of 18 become regular, daily smokers.
This is partly because adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the effects of tobacco.
“Nicotine can cause long-lasting changes in the brain when you start using it as a teenager,” says pediatrician Sara Lee, MD.
Nicotine impacts the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that regulates emotions, decision-making and susceptibility to addiction – which is still developing during adolescence. It's also why teenagers often become dependent on nicotine faster than adults, Dr. Lee says. And once they start smoking, it is harder for teenagers to quit than it is for adults, she adds.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 percent of adult smokers began smoking in their teens. The long-term health effects of adolescent smoking are “very worrisome,” Dr. Lee says. If the current smoking rates continue, up to one-third of all of today's youth smokers will eventually die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses. And, despite what your teenager might tell you, vaping (or e-cigarettes) aren't a safe alternative. Most contain nicotine, as well as other potentially harmful flavorings and chemicals.
“E-cigarettes aren't regulated, so you can't be sure what you're getting,” Dr. Lee says.
The good news is that cigarette use is down over the past 10 years.
“But you really want to try and prevent your kid from ever starting,” she says.
To help your child stay nicotine-free, Dr. Lee offers these four suggestions:
- Get active. Teens often gravitate to nicotine for the dopamine rush they receive, Dr. Lee says. You can help your child avoid cigarettes by directing them to healthy after-school activities – like sports or volunteering – that have similar feel-good effects.
“Doing something that makes them feel proud and positive is a great way to protect against substance abuse,” she says.
- Anticipate peer pressure. Teens are more likely to try a cigarette or e-cigarette if they are with friends who are doing it, Dr. Lee says. Practice ways with your child to turn down tobacco products before they're in that situation. Encourage your kids to use you as a crutch if necessary. For example, they could say, “If my parents find out I tried a cigarette, I’d be grounded for a month.”
- Talk about the negative effects of ALL tobacco products. “I think kids these days are well-versed in why they shouldn’t smoke,” Dr. Lee says. “But I don’t think they consider things like e-cigarettes or cigars to be as dangerous as smoking.”
Yet these products have the same sort of effects on the body and brain, Dr. Lee says.
- If you smoke, quit. Children tend to imitate their parents’ behavior. Studies show that the children of smokers are more likely to smoke themselves.
“That is a great reason to quit,” Dr. Lee says.
Double your odds of success by developing a cessation plan, getting family and group support and/or trying out nicotine replacement systems.
Sara Lee, MD is a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Lee or any other doctor online.