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Tobacco: A Pediatric Disease

It took more than thirty years, but in the 1990s the tobacco industry finally conceded that Luther L. Terry had been right all along. Terry was the U.S. surgeon general who in 1964 released the first government report to officially recognize that cigarette smoking was a cause of cancer, chronic bronchitis and other serious diseases.

The tobacco manufacturers’ belated admission couldn’t have been less startling had they publicly announced that the earth was round; even most teenagers are aware that cigarette use is the leading cause of death from cancer. Whether or not that’s enough to dissuade them from smoking is another matter, because what teenagers don’t understand is the power of addiction.

But the most sinister constituent in tobacco would have to be nicotine, the addictive mind-altering drug that keeps smokers coming back for more. Adolescents can become hooked on cigarettes after smoking only a few packs. One national study asked young tobacco users if they thought they would be smoking in five years. Those who replied no were contacted five years later. Three in four were still addicted, still puffing away. Seventy percent of teenage smokers wish they’d never taken up the habit in the first place.

Selling cigarettes to minors is against the law in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia, yet each year children under the age of eighteen purchase more than 947 million packs. The illegal peddling of tobacco products to kids nets $221 million in profits annually.

Fortunately, America’s teenagers have largely resisted the tobacco manufacturers’ overtures. From 1985 to 1998, cigarette use among twelve-to-seventeen-year-olds fell by more than one-third. One alarming trend has been the increase in the number of young female smokers, which now exceeds the number of boys who smoke. Dr. Richard Heyman attributes this to girls’ growing obsession with staying slim. “They learn from their friends that nicotine is a potent appetite suppressant,” he observes. “Plus, cigarette ads portray girls who smoke as sexy, assertive and independent.”

Signs of Tobacco Use

  • Dizziness
  • Burning of The Eyes, Nose, Throat
  • Bad Breath
  • Stained Teeth and Fingertips
  • Hoarseness
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Smoker’s Cough, A Hacking Cough Caused By Inflammation of The Respiratory Tract From Tobacco Smoke
  • Tremors
  • Decreased Appetite
  • Hair and Clothes That Reek of Tobacco Smoke

Possible Long-Term Effects of Tobacco Use

  • Cancers of the Lung, Larynx, Oral Cavity, Esophagus, Kidney, Bladder and Pancreas
  • Heart Disease
  • Asthma, Chronic Bronchitis, Emphysema and Other Respiratory Illnesses

Increased health risks to others, by way of the sidestream cigarette smoke that curls into the air; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared secondhand smoke a class-A carcinogen capable of triggering cancer in humans.

Tobacco: A Gateway Drug

The most serious immediate effect of smoking is that it introduces a youngster to the subculture of substance abuse. Granted, not all tobacco users graduate to addiction, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adolescents who smoke are three times more likely to drink alcohol, eight times more likely to smoke marijuana and twenty-two times more likely to use cocaine. For that reason, tobacco has been dubbed a “gateway” drug.

Dr. Heyman compares smoking cigarettes to on-the-job training for other substances. “Through smoking,” he explains, “kids learn a number of skills that they will need if they’re going to become regular drinkers, marijuana users and users of other drugs. To begin with, they learn how to obtain an illegal product, how to hide it and how to con their parents into thinking they don’t smoke. Then they learn how to smoke and how to use a mind-altering drug; they figure out how to sense its effects, how large a dose they need and how to ‘pace’ themselves.

“So the choice to use cigarettes is really the opening of Pandora’s box.”

Last Updated
Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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