Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: We Must Battle Adolescent Smoking

Category: Child Care


It is estimated that about 3,000 teenagers begin smoking in the United States daily. About one million start annually. The center for disease control has found that 90% start before age 21. Adolescents today buy over a billion packs of cigarettes annually.

Over 390,000 smoking related deaths in our country are preventable. Many of these deaths actually began with adolescent smoking. We should strive to make obtaining cigarettes and acceptance of smoking by adolescents difficult instead of the easy access and acceptance which they find in today's world.

About 152 million dollars is received in taxes from the sale of tobacco to children annually. The federal government spends about 40 million dollars in prevention and research. Another way of looking at this is to realize that every nine days, children pay federal cigarette taxes equivalent to the entire budget of the Office of Smoking and Health which is 3.5 million annually. This is the only federal agency specifically devoted to smoking.

Regular school health programs have educated teens about long term health consequences of smoking but have not changed their smoking behavior. We must begin to target more effective programs for even younger children, and develop intervention and treatment programs for adolescents who are just beginning to smoke.

Research shows that stopping smoking can improve one's health almost immediately. The rising risk of lung cancer, heart attack, stroke and chronic lung disease begins to drop rapidly as soon as one stops smoking.

Each community in the United States can play a role in discouraging smoking by teens. They can make sure that, through their school system, local health agencies and doctor's offices, that children are given plenty of education about the dangers of smoking. They can establish tobacco free environments (our parish school board is trying to do this). They can run programs at low cost or no cost, sponsored by local civic clubs, to help children stop smoking. Finally, they must give a consistent anti-smoking message backed up by adults they respect.

Medical studies have shown that, if children are shown the harmful effects of any negative habit, they will become influenced and try to stop. For teenagers, these messages must stress the immediate adverse consequence, not just the chance that they might have cancer 30 years later. In other words, we must remind them that it will decrease their ability to compete in sports, it will stain their teeth and it will give their breath a stale odor. We must remind them that in addition to all these negatives, smoking really truly does not look cool. Let's all work together in medicine, education and as concerned citizens and parents to prevent these unnecessary deaths and disabilities by helping our teens to stop smoking and chewing tobacco now. Chewing tobacco is on a rise among youth today and is in many ways just as dangerous as smoking. The risk of oral cancer goes up at least 20 times as well as several other mouth and gum diseases. If you are a parent of a preteen or teen who is considering smoking or chewing tobacco because of peer pressure or because it helps them to relieve stress, please take an active role and just say "NO". Once your children are older, they will have the will power to realize and say no themselves. While they are still in the home, I encourage you as parents to be a little bit dictatorial if necessary. We should strongly oppose anything which we know is very dangerous and harmful to our children even if it may be a slow, long-term risk.