Tobacco use and Health. Part 3: Smoking and Youth

Disclaimer: Although most statistics quoted here are from the US, the larger picture accurately reflects the global situation.

Key Messages:

Nearly all tobacco use begins during youth and progresses during young adulthood.

In the US, more than 3,200 children age 18 or younger smoke their first cigarette every day.

Nearly 90% smokers in the US start before the age of 18 and almost all start smoking by age 26.

Every adult who dies early because of smoking is replaced by two new young smokers in the US.

If smoking continues at current rates, 5.6 million—or 1 out of every 13—of today’s children in the US will ultimately die prematurely from a smoking-related illness.

1. Health Effects

Young people who smoke are in danger of:

  • addiction to nicotine;
  • reduced lung function;
  • reduced lung growth; and
  • early cardiovascular damage.

2. Industry Marketing

Images that make smoking seem attractive and appealing are everywhere. Cigarette advertising and marketing cause youth and young adults to start smoking; nicotine addiction keeps them smoking into adulthood.

Although direct marketing to children is now prohibited, the tobacco industry is still developing, packaging, and advertising their products in ways that appeal to children. They promote new tobacco products such as:

  • snus, a dry snuff in a small tea bag-like pouch that enables kids to consume tobacco products at school or in other tobacco-free environments;
  • dissolvable tobacco in sticks, lozenges, and strips; and
  • fruit and candy flavored smokeless and dissolvable tobacco products.

Except for menthol, cigarettes can no longer contain flavoring that appeals to children; however, tobacco companies can still include fruit and candy flavors in cigarette-sized cigars. In fact, as many high school boys now smoke cigars as smoke cigarettes in the US.

It is important to note that cigars that are small, cheap, flavored, and shaped and sized like cigarettes contain the same deadly poisons as cigarettes and are just as addictive.

3. Electronic cigarettes

Many tobacco companies now produce and sell electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) such as electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), vape pens, and e-hookahs.

These devices deliver nicotine through an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs the same way cigarette smoke is.

So far, there are no studies on the health effects of long-term use of e-cigarettes and other ENDS, or whether use of ENDS leads to cigarette smoking by youth. However, nicotine is known to be addictive, toxic to developing fetuses, and harmful to adolescent brain development, so no youth should use e-cigarettes or any other tobacco product.

4. Secondhand Smoke Exposure

Today, about half of all children between ages 3 and 18 years in the US are exposed to cigarette smoke regularly, either at home or in places such as restaurants that still allow smoking.

Compared to children who are not exposed, children exposed to secondhand smoke:

  • have more ear infections;
  • have more respiratory infections;
  • have more asthma attacks; and
  • miss more days of school.

If current smoking rates in the US continue, 1 out of every 13 children alive in the US today will die prematurely from smoking.

Useful Links:

Link to the US CDC’s fact sheet on Smoking and Youth:

Click to access fs_smoking_youth_508.pdf

Link to infographic on impact of smoking on children:





1 thought on “Tobacco use and Health. Part 3: Smoking and Youth

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