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Smoking Facts for Parents and Teens

Facts about Smoking That Our Kids Should Know

By

Updated June 07, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Smoking Facts for Parents and Teens
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Parents are the single biggest influence in their children’s lives.

Let your kids know that smoking kills people, and the sooner you start, the better. Instill disdain for cigarettes by telling young children how toxic the chemicals in them are and teaching them to think of smoking as stupid instead of cool. By the time your kids reach their teen years, a solid anti-smoking foundation will be laid that can hopefully hold fast against peer pressure.

Reinforce this information when your teen's friends start smoking, or they decide to try it for themselves. This is one topic it's ok to harp on them about! They may seem to be tuning you out and accuse you of lecturing, but they are listening.

The smoking facts in this article have been compiled with teens in mind, but can also be tailored for younger kids.

The ingredients and additives in cigarettes when burned, create toxic, harmful chemical compounds. Science is still uncovering information about the composition of cigarette smoke, but to date we know that there are over 7000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, with more than 70 chemicals classified as carcinogens and 250 that are poisonous.

When smokers inhale cigarette smoke into their lungs, the chemicals within it quickly move into the blood stream and reach virtually every organ in the body.

With every puff, smokers take in these chemicals, among many others:

  • Tar: Yes, the same thing they use to pave streets and driveways. Ever notice how smoker’s teeth are yellow? Tar is responsible for that.
  • Hydrogen Cyanide: This chemical is used to kill rats and it was used during WWII as a genocidal agent. Smokers inhale it with every puff.
  • Benzene: This chemical is used in manufacturing gasoline.
  • Acetone: It’s in nail polish remover and it’s in cigarettes.
  • Formaldehyde: This is what they use to preserve dead bodies. It’s also used as an industrial fungicide, is a disinfectant, and is used in glues and adhesives.
  • Ammonia: We use this chemical to clean our houses. Cigarette manufacturers use it to boost the addictive quality of nicotine.
  • Carbon Monoxide: It’s in car exhaust, and it’s in cigarette smoke.
  • Cadmium: A toxic heavy metal used to make batteries.
  • Vinyl Chloride: This is a carcinogenic, man-made product most commonly used to make a polymer called polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC. Vinyl chloride is also used to make cigarette filters.
  • Radioactive Heavy Metals: Most people are surprised at this one. Radioactive particles that occur naturally in soil and from fertilizers in tobacco farming stick to the tobacco all of the way from the field to the smoker and settle permanently in smoker's lungs.
And of course, there is nicotine, a poison used in pesticides and the drug responsible for an addiction that smokers spend years and years trying to break.

Teen Smoking Facts and More...
  • Every day in the United States alone, approximately 4,000 kids under the age of 18 try their first cigarette, and out of that number, 1000 start smoking regularly. This adds 400,000 new smokers to the population annually.
  • Teens who smoke are more likely to also use alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, and engage in high risk sexual behavior.
  • Teen smokers get sick more often than teens who don’t smoke.
  • Teen smokers have smaller lungs and weaker hearts than teens who don’t smoke.
  • Addicted smokers tend to use more nicotine over time. The habit usually grows. What starts out as 5 or 10 cigarettes a day usually becomes a pack or two a day habit eventually.
  • It is estimated that approximately 4.5 million adolescents in the United States are smokers.
  • Spit tobacco, pipes and cigars are not safe alternatives to cigarettes. “Light” or “low-tar” cigarettes aren’t safe either.
  • Those who start smoking young are more likely to have a long-term addiction to nicotine than people who start smoking later in life.
  • Smoking-related illnesses claim more American lives than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide and illegal drugs combined.
  • People who smoke a pack a day die on average 7 years earlier than people who have never smoked.
  • Smoking is the single most preventable cause of premature death in the United States.
Be proactive! Arm your child with knowledge that will help them resist outside influences encouraging them to smoke as they go through their formative years. It’s up to us as parents to do all that we can to protect our kids from the dangers that tobacco use presents. Education about nicotine addiction is the best place to start.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services - Preventing Tobacco Use among Young People, A Report of the Surgeon General. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/1994/. Accessed September 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth and Tobacco Use. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/youth_data/tobacco_use/. Accessed September 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Polonium Factsheet. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/fallon/polonium_factsheet.pdf. Accessed September 2013.

PubMed Central - National Institutes of Health. Lead-210 in Tobacco and Cigarette Smoke. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1920022/?pageindex=1. Accessed September 2013.

American Cancer Society. Cigarette Smoking. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/tobaccocancer/cigarettesmoking/index. Accessed September 2013.

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