Andrew Germano started smoking when he got kicked out of the house at age 18.
“I guess you could say it gave me something to hold on to,” said the Grass Valley 20-year-old. “About 90 percent of my friends smoke and my parents smoked. For me, all the warnings about smoking never seemed to outweigh the fact that everyone around me was doing it.”
Germano could not have done a better job at encapsulating the nation’s predicament when it comes to tobacco prevention efforts.
The American Cancer Society is marking the 37th Great American Smokeout Thursday by encouraging smokers to use the date to make a plan to quit or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day.
Despite tobacco smoking being the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that roughly 3,900 teens start smoking every day. According to the American Lung Association, a whopping 392,000 Americans die annually as a result of smoking-related diseases — 90 percent of whom began smoking as teenagers.
Studies show that most teens pick up the habit due to peer pressure. A 2002 Brown University study found that teens are more likely to smoke if their friends do or if they feel a sense of alienation at school. In fact, in a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, teens who had three or more friends who smoked regularly were 24 times more likely to become habitual smokers themselves.
In addition to long-term health effects, smoking can also lead to an increase in acne, bad breath, longer healing time and inferior athletic performance. Teens who smoke have smaller lungs and a weaker heart and may have a smaller lung capacity as adults.
As if that weren’t bad enough, a 2011 study published in Neuropsychopharmacology, found that smoking can affect brain function in adolescents. This includes the decision-making part of the brain — the prefrontal cortex — which is still developing during the teen years, which can result in less-than-mature cognitive control.
“Such an effect can influence the ability of youth to make rational decisions,” said the study’s senior author Edythe London, a UCLA professor of psychiatry in a 2011 issue of Science Daily. “That includes the decision to stop smoking.”
A Brown University study released in September of this year found that kicking the habit can be just as hard for new teen smokers as it is for adults.
In the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, the Brown study found that “young people who are new smokers suffer nearly all of the same negative psychological effects when they try to quit as people who’ve smoked for years.”
But it’s not all bad news. Between the years of 1997 and 2003, the country experienced a dramatic decline in teen cigarette use and continues to go down slowly, reports the CDC.
Programs that have been shown to help reduce and prevent youth tobacco use included mass-media campaigns; school-based tobacco-use-prevention policies (including tobacco-free campuses); community intervention, such as reducing advertising and availability; and higher costs through taxes, according to the CDC.
Teen smoking can lead to a lifelong and life-threatening habit, and research from Cardiff University found that effective parenting still remains the best strategy for preventing teen smoking. Teens who don’t start smoking usually never do. Parents are advised to have discussions with their teens regarding the dangers of smoking coupled with peer pressure. According to FamilyFirstAid.org, “Only two percent of smokers have parents who don’t smoke.”
Mike Craig, who works at The Hangout, a Grass Valley after-school program for high school students, says he’s encouraged by what he sees.
“We see about 300 high school students a week and very few of them seem to have anything to do with smoking,” he said. “Sometimes I can smell smoke on their parents, but the kids, they get it.”
To contact staff writer Cory Fisher email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4203.