For anyone who resolves to stop smoking, help is as close as your cell phone.
According to NIDA’s 2011 Monitoring the Future survey results, teen smoking rates are currently at their lowest since the survey began in 1975. However, many teens continue to take up the habit—19 percent of 12th-graders reported past-month cigarette use.
By now, we all know that smoking has negative health effects. These include lung and heart disease and particularly cancer—since cigarettes contain chemicals that are carcinogenic, or cancer-causing. However, when it comes to quitting, the main problem is nicotine. Nicotine is addictive and makes quitting notoriously hard.
To help teens quit, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently launched SmokefreeTXT, a free text-to-quit service that sends text messages with encouragement, advice, and tips directly to teens’ cell phones.
How It Works
Sign up at www.teen.smokefree.gov or text “QUIT” to “iQUIT” (47848) and provide the date you smoked last. After that, you’ll receive text messages for up to 6 weeks. Research shows that support for quitting continues to be important beyond the first few weeks.
The text-to-quit campaign is just one feature of a broader effort to encourage teens to quit smoking. NCI’s new Smokefree Teen Web site features information, quizzes, comics, and other resources to help teens understand the decisions they make and to take control of their health.
Smokefree Teen also offers a free smartphone app, QuitSTART—an interactive guide that provides mood management tips, tracks cravings, and monitors quit attempts.
You can find Smokefree Teen on several social media pages to connect other teens with tools to help them quit.Think about “liking” Smokefree Teen on Facebook, even if you don’t smoke, to show support for your friends or family who are trying to quit.
Is 2012 the year of texting for healthy living? Let us know if you think campaigns like these can help you stay committed to your resolutions.
ots of teens have questions about drugs. That’s why each year, NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At NIDA’s last Drug Facts Chat Day, ham223 asked this question:
“What types of drugs are most used by high school students?”
According to NIDA’s Monitoring the Future Survey—which looks at the different drugs that teens are using—alcohol is number one (yes, it’s a drug), followed by tobacco and marijuana, which are pretty equal. Turns out, though, that not many teens are using most illegal drugs. The survey shows that in 2008, fewer than 1 in 6 10th graders reported that they used any illegal drug in the past month. And the numbers are still going down.
Have you noticed that a lot of restaurants don't have indoor smoking sections anymore? More and more cities, counties, and entire states are banning indoor smoking. People everywhere are getting the message: smoking causes disease and death. In fact, it is the number one preventable cause of death in this country. NIDA scientists have shown how incredibly addictive smoking is, especially when people start in their teens—which most that do, get addicted. So protect your health and avoid the hassle and...don't start. It's a no-brainer.
If you need more reasons not to smoke besides smelly clothes and yellow teeth, here you go:
- Your wallet. How can you afford that new video game if you're burning cash on cigarettes?
- Your athletic ability. Smokers run slower and can't run as far, like being old before you're old.
- Your state of mind. It takes just 8 seconds for nicotine from cigarettes to reach your brain and change the way it works. Although scientists aren't totally sure why yet, one study found that teens who smoke a lot are 15 times more likely to have panic attacks than teens who don't smoke. Teen smokers also are more likely to have anxiety disorders and depression.
- Your future. Quitting smoking is hard. But the health consequences are even harder to deal with.
If you or any of your friends smoke, know help is out there. For free quitting support, call 1–800–QUIT–NOW (1–800–784–8669).
The average price for a pack of cigarettes (PDF, 57.91 KB) nationwide is around $5.50—more or less depending on the State you live in. The spending calculator lets you enter the number of packs smoked per week as well as the price per pack. Then, it calculates the monthly and yearly cost.
Let’s say you smoke one pack a week at the average price of $5.50 per pack—that’s $22 a month and $264 a year. If you smoke two packs a week, the numbers double—$44 a month and more than $500 a year! I’m sure you can think of better things to do with $500....
According to NIDA research, nicotine in cigarettes is addictive, and most people smoke tobacco regularly because they are addicted to nicotine. Once people get addicted, they need more and more of the drug to get the same effect. That means smoking leads to more smoking, which leads to more money for the cigarette companies and less for you—not to mention the hit on your health.
When you quit, treat yourself to a reward, and pay for it with the money you used to spend on cigarettes. To talk to someone about quitting, call the national toll-free number, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is betting that young people have something powerful to say about smoking. Teens 13–17 years old and young adults 18–25 years old are invited to develop original videos that feature one or more of these findings from the recent Surgeon General’s report on tobacco use and young people:
- Cigarette smoking by teens and young adults immediately starts a series of health consequences that include addiction, lung problems, asthma, and heart disease.
- Advertising and promotional activities by tobacco companies influence adolescents and young adults to start and continue smoking.
- Use of tobacco products by teens and young adults shows signs of increasing after years of steady decline.
Submit a video by yourself or with a group of friends, and you could win up to $1,000!
Why You Should Submit a Video
Approximately 88 percent of adults who smoke cigarettes daily report that they started smoking before age 18. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable and premature death in America, killing more than 1,200 people every day. For every tobacco-related death, two new young people become regular smokers. To keep their companies in business, tobacco manufacturers need new people to pick up the habit. This contest is an opportunity to tell them and others why YOU won’t be one of them!
The deadline for submitting a video is April 20, 2012. Individuals or groups can submit videos in English or Spanish. All submissions must be made through Challenge.gov. Go there to learn more and submit your video for the tobacco contest. Grand prize winners in each of four categories will receive $1,000. Three runners-up in each category will receive $500. Find inspiration for your video by checking out these resources:
- Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General
- Past SBB blog posts on smoking and tobacco
- Facts on tobacco and nicotine addiction from NIDA for Teens
- Facts on tobacco and kids from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
- Tips on quitting from former smokers
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (known by most people as the "FDA") has banned cigarettes with flavors that make them taste like fruit, candy, or clove. Which reminds me…real candy and fruit are soooo much better…but this ban does raise some questions—so, in case you were wondering:
Who is smoking flavored cigarettes? Studies show that 17-year-olds who smoke are three times more likely to use flavored cigarettes as smokers over 25. In fact, some people think cigarette companies add the flavors as a way to get teens to try smoking. The FDA says young people are twice as likely to report seeing advertising for these flavored products, so the cigarette companies are obviously putting the ads in places that are popular with teens. (Hmmm, pretty sneaky).
Why ban the flavored cigarettes? 3,600 young people start smoking each day, and almost all adult smokers (90 percent) started smoking as teenagers. If the idea of flavors encourages kids to smoke, many of them will keep smoking and face a lifelong battle with nicotine addiction (hardly worth it).
Do the flavors make the cigarettes any safer? No way! They are just as toxic as ever. In fact, the flavors might hide some of the bad taste of cigarettes, so in a way they are more dangerous.
How will they enforce this ban? The FDA encourages people to report continuing sales of flavored cigarettes through a special tobacco hotline (1-877-CTP-1373) and website. You can learn more about the risks of flavored tobacco products at www.fda.gov. Might even make a great report for health or science class!
What does SBB think about flavored cigarettes? The companies that make these flavored cigarettes think they are pretty smart, trying to make money off of teens who think "candy, fruit and clove" sound like fun. However, smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined.*
So don't be "tricked" into smoking by the lure of flavored cigarettes.
That was my question. Why do people do the things they do. I used to just love to sit and watch people. I could sit at the park or in the mall for hours and just “people watch.” I think that's why when I got to college I eventually became a psychology major. I wanted to understand more about why people behave in certain ways and what makes people choose to do different things.
One thing fascinated me in particular was why do some people smoke? My parents smoked when I was growing up. I remember my dad decided to quit and he seemed to do it so easily but when my mom tried, it was so hard for her. She seemed to try everything to quit, and then her mood would get so bad that soon she was buying another pack. Eventually though she did quit...I don't know what finally did it—back then we didn't have the patch or gum and there were no medications. No one talked about smoking being an addiction, it was just a habit, and people thought you only needed willpower to be able to quit. Imagine how hard it must have been for my mom to see my dad being able to quit so easily and her having to struggle so hard.
Smoking affects people very differently. When I was about 18, I had some very cool friends who smoked and so I wanted to smoke too. So I tried it but, lucky for me, I hated it. That was my first lesson in genetics. My second was when I took a class in behavioral genetics, and suddenly all my life experiences started to click, to make sense. My mother struggled to quit because she had a genetic tendency for addiction, not just smoking but also for alcohol, which eventually took her life. I was lucky I had many of my dad’s protective genes so substances of abuse were never tempting to me.
It was these life experiences that drew me to the field of genetics, to better understand why some people struggle so mightily with addiction like my mother. We don't have all the answers even today, but many scientists are working on this puzzle to help find better treatments so people can overcome their addictions and reclaim their lives. Think about becoming a scientist to help solve this puzzle and make life better for so many! It’s a great field and very rewarding, too.
Dr. Miner is the Deputy Director of the Office of Science Policy and Communications (OSPC) at NIDA. She helps coordinate all of NIDA’s communications to Congress, constituent groups, and the media. She also oversees NIDA’s plans for the research it will support. Cindy earned her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Colorado in 1986. She’s published numerous papers and book chapters on the genetic and biochemical bases of addiction. Oh—she’s also a wonderful person, an Emmy award winner (as part of NIDA’s work on the HBO special, “Addiction”), and a super athlete! So being a successful “science nerd” is just one of her many talents
* Dr. Miner will soon leave her position at NIDA to start an exciting new job with the Food and Drug Administration’s new Center for Tobacco Products, helping to start up their Communications and Policy offices. SBB wishes her the best!
According to the Surgeon General’s report on smoking and young people, more than 600,000 middle school students and 3 million high school students smoke cigarettes.
In March 2012, the Surgeon General launched a video contest encouraging teens to develop videos around the facts in the tobacco report. SBB announced the contest, and now we want to share the winners.
Grand Prize Winner (Ages 13–17 Category): “Tobacco—I’m Not Buying It Rap”
The Manatee Youth for Christ SOZO team from Bradenton, Florida, raps about the dangers of smoking and why some teenagers start smoking, emphasizing with the chorus, “Tobacco OH NO I Ain’t Buying It.”
Grand Prize Winner (Ages 18–25 Category): “You Don’t Smoke Cigarettes, Cigarettes Smoke You”
Ayyaz Amjad’s video features a young man who realizes that people who smoke may not be as in control as they might think.
Grand Prize Winner (Spanish Category): “El Tabaco y la industria”
A narrator describes the dangers of smoking as her friends hold up signs with selected facts on them. The video was created by Sarah Skipper, Karolina Almasi, Taylor Crews, Natalie Curtis, and Malorie McKinnon.
Check out all the winning videos, including the runners-up.
What do you think of the videos? Do their messages inspire you to make your own video or to think differently about smoking?
What we know about drug abuse evolves over time. This is true for smoking and tobacco addiction, too. We know much more now than we did 100, 40, or even 10 years ago. As we learn more about tobacco, smoking, and health, we continue to do more to prevent illness and death caused by tobacco.
Did you know there was a time when people didn't know that smoking cigarettes could be deadly? A long time ago, doctors even recommended that people smoke to cure other illnesses-check out the old advertisement below:
Looks pretty silly now. Today, no doctor who has gone to medical school would recommend smoking to their patients. Just the opposite: doctors, nurses, and teens like you are telling people not to smoke. Why? Because smoking "causes lung cancer heart disease, emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy"—and it says so right on the box! Every cigarette carton in the United States is required to warn against the health effects of smoking.
Different warnings appear on different cigarette packaging. While traveling in Europe recently, one of our bloggers snapped a picture of some cigarette cartons, each with its own saying. One of them said: "Smokers die younger." That's what you call truth in advertising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, smoking causes more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined! Check out more info for youth on CDC's website.
Here at NIDA, we know and understand what smoking looked like then and now. But, what gets us excited is applying what we've learned about tobacco and nicotine to help improve people's lives in the future. So, stay tuned to the Sara Bellum Blog—you never know what we, or one of your classmates, might discover.
Many people justify smoking one or two cigarettes once in a while—known as social smoking—by thinking occasional smoking won’t damage their health as much as smoking every day. Unfortunately, smoking fewer cigarettes does not reduce the risk of smoking-related health problems.
With occasional smoking, you still have several health risks, like:
- Heart disease
- Lung and other cancers
- Respiratory tract infections
- Slower recovery from torn cartilage and other injuries
It’s not just the body—the brain suffers as well. A 2011 study shows that even occasional smoking affects memory. Northumbria University in the United Kingdom gave a memory test to college students who smoked either occasionally, regularly, or not at all. Results showed that both occasional and regular smokers performed much worse than nonsmokers on this task. In fact, social smokers performed just as badly as regular smokers.
Researchers involved in the study concluded that smoking damages memory no matter how often you do it. And decline in smoking-related memory has been linked with changes in the brain, such as brain shrinkage. That can’t be good.
Regain Your Memory
Fortunately, the damage doesn’t have to be permanent. The psychologists who researched how smoking affects memory published another study last year showing that quitting smoking can actually improve memory, restoring everyday memory to nearly the same level as that of people who don’t smoke.
For this study, participants were taken on a tour of a university campus and asked to remember a series of predetermined tasks at specific locations. While current smokers remembered 59% of tasks, people who had given up smoking remembered 74% of their required tasks. Those who had never smoked remembered 81% of tasks.
What Do You Think?
Does knowing that occasional cigarette smoking has the same brain and physical health effects as regular smoking make you think twice before lighting up? If you smoke now, have you found it harder to remember everyday tasks or errands than before you started smoking?
Relapse…If you keep up with the SBB you know by now that addiction is a chronic (long-lasting) disease that takes hold in some people who abuse drugs. You may also know that some people can quit their drug use. But often a person will return to using drugs after they have quit. This is what NIDA Scientists call a relapse.
Why does it happen? Addiction changes the wiring of the brain to cause uncontrollable craving and compulsive drug use—despite the consequences. For someone with an addiction, going without the drug for periods of time can make that person feel so anxious and stressed that they need the drug just to stop feeling bad.
A person who is addicted to a drug usually needs professional treatment to quit drug use. This can include medication or "talk therapy (PDF, 1.19 MB)," or a combination of both. It also helps to have support in the family and the community. While quitting drug use is possible, addiction is a long-lasting disease, and treating it takes time-and just because someone gets treatment and stops using a drug does not mean that these strong cravings go away for good, especially when certain cues are present. These cues vary from person to person and can trigger a relapse.
Imagine that your best friend is addicted to cigarettes and says she smokes to relieve stress, but that she recently quit because her boyfriend hates the smell of cigarette smoke. Since she has connected cigarette smoking with stress relief, the next time your friend faces a stressful situation, like a fight with parents or final exams, she will most likely crave a cigarette, increasing her risk of a relapse. Her use of cigarettes, which led to an addiction to nicotine, has also caused her to associate "relaxation" with cigarettes.
Not everyone will relapse once they have quit drug use; it depends on the person, their genes, their environment, and many other factors, including personal commitment and family support.
Ever wonder how teens in other schools or parts of the country feel about drug abuse? Two teens recently told SBB about their real-life experiences with drugs and high school:
Think of the two words: weed and cigarettes. What’s the first thing that crosses your mind? Maybe it’s addiction…but to a lonely teen who feels like an outcast from society, it might be something completely different. Maybe the first thing they think of is fitting in. In high school there are loads of different cliques, like the manly jocks, the nerds, that group of back-stabbing sassy girls. They’re all unique, and so are the stoners. And to a lonely freshman, this is a whole new world, and they may feel left out. Which is probably terrifying, because not fitting in is the worst feeling in the world. Whether it’s having no one to eat with at lunch, or not having a partner to do the assignment with in class.
If you take a closer look at the mind of that freshman, the only thing that he’s going to be thinking about is having some friends, and how he can fit in with one of those cliques. However, he may not exactly fit anywhere, and now he may be feeling even worse than before. Maybe he’ll turn to drugs, not because it’s the cool thing to do but because he desperately wants to be part of something, and the stoner group is the easiest one to be a part of! But just because they’re easy to be friends with doesn’t mean that they are who you should hang with.
As brainless as this may sound, some teens will stop at nothing to be “popular.” And this is exactly what happened to one of the kids at my school. He started out innocent and open, but now drugs are the only thing on his mind. He’s not the same kid he was, and there’s no way I can respect someone who did what he did, no matter how desperate he was. Drugs are never the answer to any of your problems.
On the last day of the first week of school, my school had a back-to-school dance. Even though this year it seemed like it would be really dumb, some friends and I decided to go. Some other kids we knew decided to go, too, but said they were going to smoke beforehand. That plan seemed way too risky because our school was getting really serious about drugs and threatened to have police at the dance. They decided to do it anyway.
About 10 minutes into the dance, teachers started coming in and looking around, and we saw them pull someone we knew who was in the group that smoked. Then, another one of our friends got pulled out. Eventually, the school contacted all the parents of kids in the group that smoked before the dance.
Although the kids involved were able to avoid any legal charges, they were given a 2-week suspension and forced to go to drug counseling sessions until deemed ready to stop by their respective counselors. The ones on football were also kicked off the team for the season and had to apologize to their coaches. Two of them are still in trouble with their parents and lost their trust because of it. In the end, I really don’t think the consequences were worth the 10 minutes they were able to have fun at the dance.
So maybe think about their situation and how it ended up for them the next time you want to do what they did.
As more and more people use smartphones, a world of virtual games, social networking, and fun apps are at their fingertips 24/7. Photo-sharing and exercise-tracking apps can be useful and fun. Others, though, may have devious intentions, like trying to get you hooked on smoking.
Cigarette advertising was banned from TV and sports stadiums because of the terrible health risks of smoking and because it was an easy and effective way to market cigarettes to youth. But with each technological advance, tobacco companies and other advertisers are looking for new ways to reach teens—even if that means developing games and free apps for your phone.
A study of available apps on Apple and Google Play during a single month in 2012 found 107 phone apps that promoted smoking! Some of these let users smoke virtual cigarettes while others compare cigarette prices.
Many of the virtual smoking apps allow you to “smoke with friends,” and they use catchy animations that make them seem like a game. Don’t be fooled.
Next time you download an app, pause a moment to ask: “Is this app just a game or is there a hidden message?”
Have you seen Avatar? Awesome special effects. And you had to love the story, especially if you're into science. But there was this one thing ...the top scientist (played by Sigorney Weaver) was a chain smoker. WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT? Alright, so movie directors will put smoking in movies to make characters look edgy and rebellious, or even stupid sometimes. But Avatar is happening 125 years in the future. Would a top-level scientist a century from now get addicted to cigarettes and not know how to stop?
Or maybe, like some other bloggers suggest, this was sponsored "product placement" by the tobacco industry-a sneaky way to get teens to think smoking is cool. Some people say that because it's illegal now for the tobacco industry to advertise on TV or in other places, their new strategy is to hook potential customers by associating smoking with heroes and heroines. Meanwhile, the American Lung Association and other groups are trying to stop moviemakers from showing so much smoking—especially since research shows that teens who see a lot of smoking in movies are more likely to start smoking themselves.
Thanks to NIDA research, we now know what smoking really does to people. And it's far from cool. To put it bluntly, the effects range from stinky breath and bad gums to heart and lung disease to early death. This message has gotten through despite the movies, and teens are smoking less now than they have in over a decade. Thanks to NIDA, better treatments to help people quit are also getting out there...125 years from now, incurable smoking addiction could be a thing of the past, like small pox. So you have to wonder why this amazing movie director who learned so much about science to create Avatar didn't take a good look at what is going on in science and health. Why else would a successful, top-level scientist still be chain smoking that far into the future?—especially in a lab, of all places! Let SBB know if you see any other ridiculous smoking scenes in the movies.
Have you ever heard friends say they’d like to quit smoking, but they are afraid they’ll gain weight if they stop?
Some people do experience a slight weight gain after they quit smoking. It could be that smokers trying to quit may reach for food for the same reasons they used cigarettes—to deal with stress or boredom or to be social.
The good news is that research shows that by 6 months, many people start losing this extra weight (typically less than 10 pounds) as they adjust to becoming non-smokers.
When you think about the many health benefits of quitting smoking, it’s easy to see far more pros than cons, tobacco use being the number one preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States.
Here are some ways you can keep weight gain to a minimum while making the healthy life choice to leave those cigarettes behind.
Choose healthy foods. Fill your plate with fruits and veggies and lean meats like fish or grilled chicken.
Get moving! Exercise reduces stress and boredom, increases your metabolism, and can even help you get a better night’s sleep. Consider joining a class with a friend to help keep you motivated.
Drink more water. Skip the sugary soft drinks and make sure you drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day.
Watch your portions. Many people eat far more than the recommended serving size, and many restaurants serve huge portions of food! But remember, you don’t have to eat everything at one meal—take half of it home for lunch the next day.
To learn more about weight as it relates to quitting smoking, see Forever Free: Smoking and Weight (PDF, 1.18MB), a publication from the National Cancer Institute.
- Urea, a compound found in urine
- Diammonium phosphate, used to make fertilizer
- Levulinic acid, used in cleaning solvents
- Chocolate (not the Hershey bar kind, the bitter baking kind)
He found secretions from the anal gland of the civet cat as well as the Siberian beaver—ewwwwww!
These are just a few of more than 158 additives some cigarette manufacturers roll up in cigarettes.
What Makes Smoking Cigarettes so Addictive?
You may wonder—why these ingredients? Nicotine, the main addictive chemical in all cigarettes, and other ingredients are designed to make it harder to quit:
- Chocolate is meant to make cigarettes taste better, but cocoa is also a bronchodilator, meaning it helps open the lungs and makes them more receptive to the smoke.
- Ammonia breaks down nicotine molecules into a “free base” state—just like the process that makes crack cocaine so potent and addictive—which adds to cigarettes’ potency.
- Levulinic acid increases the efficiency of nicotine uptake, or binding, in the brain.
- Licorice, nutmeg powder, dandelion root extract, sugar, and prune juice are flavors added to cigarettes that make the smoke smoother and better smelling.
Proctor’s research found some odd complaints from smokers over the years. For example, a 1994 Philip Morris Co. document revealed contamination in cigarettes from rubber bands, machine belts and lubricants, ink and tax stamp solvents, glass fibers and plastics, and stains called “consistent with blood.” That doesn’t even include the bugs or worms (dead and alive!) that have been reported in cigarettes!
For more startling facts on smoking, check out the American Legacy Foundation. This group was set up using the proceeds from the Government’s lawsuit against tobacco companies for fooling the public into thinking smoking was harmless. Find out more in Legacy’s truth campaign for youth.
Get this: There are more than one billion smokers on planet Earth. Yep, that’s a billion people around the world whose nicotine addiction is leading to high rates of cancer and emphysema, increased air pollution and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking causes more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined!
So what to do about it? For starters, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared May 31 as “World No Tobacco Day.” For this year’s theme, WHO is focusing on women and girls—who make up about 20% of all smokers worldwide. That’s more than 200 million women and girls who may not be getting all the facts!
But fortunately, the trend with teens is going in the right direction. The latest Monitoring the Future report of teens in 8th, 10th and 12th grades found that Cigarette smoking among U.S. teens is at its lowest point since the survey started in 1975. That’s a fact worth celebrating, since smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in this country, which means the best way to avoid these negative consequences is not to start.
Other trends are not so good, including the one showing that advertisers are targeting more girls outside the U.S., who may not know as much about the dangers of smoking.
Everyone can take a step toward making May 31 tobacco-free—in your family, your school, your community, or the world. If you or someone you love smokes, get the facts. The American Cancer Society is a good place to start, with a Guide to Quitting Smoking.
Make every day a No-Tobacco Day!
You probably know that smoking is NOT cool—and that it’s really dangerous, too. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and kills nearly a half a million people each year. The chemicals found in cigarette smoke have been linked to serious long-term side effects, including cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and even death. People who smoke may become infertile, and pregnant women who smoke are more at risk for stillbirths, having babies with low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it will require prominent cigarette health warnings on all cigarette packaging and advertisements in the United States. Check out the new warning labels here: http://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/Labeling/Labeling/CigaretteWarningLabels/default.htm.
But cigarette smoking doesn’t just affect the smoker—“secondhand” smoke also affects families and friends and many thousands of others. Secondhand smoke is exactly what it sounds like: nonsmokers inhale the smoke that “firsthand” smokers exhale from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that each year, secondhand smoke causes as many as 3,400 lung cancer-related deaths in the United States.
So, if you want a longer, healthier life, better to indulge in activities like sports, yoga, running, and spending time with friends and family.
We already know how harmful smoking is to your health, but did you know it can be bad for the environment?
Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the United States—and the world.
Since cigarette butts are so small, most people who smoke don’t think much about their effect on our environment. In fact, many smokers think putting out their cigarettes on the ground is the “right” thing to do. But the effects of tossing that butt are far from harmless.
Along with making sidewalks and parks look dirty, cigarette butts are a toxic threat to the environment and to wildlife. Here are some reasons why:
- Cigarette filters are made from plastic that does not quickly degrade. Depending on the conditions, it can take 18 months to 10 years for a cigarette filter to decompose.
- Cigarette filters are meant to absorb the toxins from cigarettes that are dangerous for people to inhale, such as tar—that means those toxins are being thrown on the ground with the filter and polluting the environment.
- Cigarette butts also pollute our water, traveling through storm water systems to end up in streams, rivers, and waterways. Marine life can mistake them for food—in fact, plastic pieces from the filter have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales, and other marine animals. This can cause severe internal injuries, suffocation, starvation, and death.
Many teens and their parents spend money on clothes, haircuts, braces, perfumes, athletic gear and sports memberships, all to try and look their best. But smoking cigarettes can cancel out all these hard-earned efforts. Besides diseases like cancer and emphysema, smoking can cause:
- Yellow-brown teeth and bad breath
- Discolored skin on your fingers
- Smelly clothes and hair (Not good on a date!)
- Loss of sense of smell and taste (So much for your favorite foods)
- Lower stamina for exercise and sports
- Deeper wrinkles than average for a person’s age
- Uncontrollable coughing fits and mucous overload
The list of negative effects goes on and on. We told you in an earlier post that 75 percent of high school seniors prefer to date someone who doesn’t smoke. This list makes it easy to understand why!
Ready to Quit? It’s never too late—or too early!—to quit smoking. Quitting isn’t easy, but resources are out there to help. In fact, the CDC has several resources on quitting smoking that can help you out. The guide offers specific tips on what to do on the day you quit and ways to distract yourself in the first, hardest days after you toss out the pack and lighters. For instance, when cravings hit, you can:
- Carry things to put in your mouth, like gum, hard candy, or toothpicks.
- Keep busy by going to the movies, bicycling, walking the dog, playing video games, or calling a friend.
- Go places where you’re not allowed to smoke, like the movies or the mall.
When you quit, treat yourself to a reward, and pay for it with the money you used to spend on cigarettes. To talk to someone about quitting, call the national toll-free number, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). If you don’t smoke (good for you!) but you may have a friend or sibling who does, so send them this blog post to encourage them to take the positive, life-saving step of quitting.
How Many Teens Actually Smoke, Drink, or Do Drugs?
It’s natural to be curious about your peers—especially when it comes to things that we know can be dangerous, like alcohol and drug use. You’ve probably heard rumors of kids drinking beer at a party or may have a friend who smokes cigarettes.
You may wonder how many teens actually smoke, drink, or do drugs. It’s a question we hear frequently from teens. During NIDA’s 2011 Drug Facts Chat Day, students from the around the country asked NIDA scientists questions such as:
- “How many teens smoke every year?”
- “Has the number of people who abuse drugs increased or decreased in the past 5 years? And why?”
- “What percent of teens has tried drugs?”
- “How many kids are doing drugs?”
In December 2011, NIDA released the 2011 Monitoring the Future Study, and it seems that more teens are making better decisions when it comes to smoking and alcohol use, but not so much when it comes to using marijuana and abusing prescription drugs.
Here’s a glimpse at the most recent trends in teen drug and alcohol use.
Cigarette and Alcohol Use at Historic Low
Teen smoking has declined in all three grades included in the study—grades 8, 10, and 12. Still, almost 19 percent of 12th graders reported current (past-month) cigarette use.
This decline shows that more teens realize the harm smoking does to your body and are making the decision not to start. Also, teens’ attitudes about smoking have changed. They increasingly prefer to date nonsmokers and believe smoking to be a dirty habit.
Likewise, among nearly all grades, trends over the past 5 years showed significant decreases in alcohol use—including first-time use, occasional use, daily use, and binge drinking. As with smoking, this decline may be the result of more teens understanding the risk of drinking alcohol and disapproving of this behavior.
Marijuana Use Continues To Rise
Unlike cigarettes and alcohol, marijuana use is increasing. Among 12th graders, 36.4 percent reported using marijuana at least once in the past year, up from 31.5 percent 5 years ago. This accompanies a decrease in the number of 12th graders who perceive that smoking marijuana is harmful. For example, only 22.7 percent of high school seniors saw great risk in smoking marijuana occasionally, compared to 25.9 percent 5 years ago.
Of course, we know the risks: marijuana can affect memory, judgment, and perception, and it can harm a teen’s developing brain.
Prescription Drug Abuse Remains Steady
Prescription drug abuse hasn’t changed much since 2010. Abuse of the opioid painkiller Vicodin and the nonmedical use of Adderall and Ritalin, stimulants meant to treat ADHD, remained about the same as last year. Also, the abuse of the opioid painkiller OxyContin remained steady for the past 5 years across all 3 grades surveyed.
To drive this trend downward, NIDA recently launched PEERx, a prescription drug abuse awareness campaign that gives teens science-based information about the harmful effects of prescription drug abuse on the brain and body.
When teens understand the health risks of abusing drugs, they do it less. So, tell us, how would you convince your peers that marijuana use and prescription drug abuse are harmful?
These estimates come from the Monitoring the Future Study's national surveys of approximately 47,000 students in about 400 secondary schools each year. The survey was conducted in classrooms earlier this year. View all of the 2011 data.
The relationship between genes and addiction is complex. Researchers estimate that someone’s risk for becoming addicted to drugs depends both on their genetic makeup and on environmental factors, such as whether their friends abuse drugs.
NIDA researchers are busy studying which genes are linked to increased risk for drug addiction. For example, in 2012, a study looked at a gene that is tied to nicotine addiction and found that people with a “high-risk” variation of this gene had a harder time quitting smoking than people with a “low-risk” variation of the same gene. Generally, people with the high-risk gene took longer to quit smoking and were more likely to be heavy smokers than those with the low-risk version.
If researchers can zero in on the genes that may lead to increased risk of addiction, it might help doctors and other clinicians identify patients who would respond best to particular treatments designed to help them quit. For example, in the same study, people with the high-risk variation of the gene were three times more likely to be able to quit smoking if they used a medication than if they didn’t use one.
NIDA is also working to develop vaccines that would help protect people from addiction and drugs’ other harmful effects.
Never underestimate the power of a bright white smile. NIDA’s 2008 Monitoring the Future Survey found that the vast majority of teens—75% of high school seniors—would “prefer to date people who don’t smoke.”
According to scientists at the University of Michigan, “teens should take note that becoming a smoker will make them less attractive to the great majority of the opposite sex—a high price to pay.” You can say that again! Dating is hard enough already—why smoke cigarettes and make it even harder?
Lots of teens have questions about drugs. Each year, NIDA scientists spend a whole day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At the last Drug Facts Chat Day, “hbishop” asked:
Can a baby die from drugs that a pregnant mom is using?
To answer your question, it is possible. As one NIDA scientist put it, “We know that drugs of abuse can cross the placenta and reach the fetus. So, drugs used by the mother definitely can affect the baby’s health and can even cause long-term harm many years later. That is why doctors recommend that pregnant mothers not smoke or use alcohol or other illicit drugs.”
Anything a pregnant mother puts in her body the baby also takes in. Exposure to different drugs can harm the baby in many different ways. Like—
Smoking during pregnancy can cause slowed fetal growth, decreased birth weights, and even behavioral problems.
Drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children with FAS may be born small; have problems eating, sleeping, seeing, and hearing; and have trouble learning and getting along with others. NO amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.
Using cocaine and marijuana during pregnancy can lead to children having attention, language, and learning problems, as well as behavioral issues. Mothers who use alcohol, tobacco, or any illicit drug are setting their children up for potential lifelong problems or even death. The best thing a pregnant mom can do is talk to her doctor about which foods to eat and vitamins to take to make sure her child gets a healthy start.
The Government banned cigarette commercials on television in 1970 after the 1964 Surgeon General’s report found that smoking cigarettes increased your chances of getting lung cancer. This was a big deal, considering the strong smoking culture in the United States at the time. However, this ban didn’t stop smoking on television. Forty-years later, characters on television shows continue to smoke.
And, what if we told you that teens are one of the primary audiences for some of those shows?
Researchers from Columbia University and Legacy (formerly the American Legacy Foundation), an anti-tobacco group that produces the “Truth” anti-smoking ad campaign, teamed up to find out how often tobacco use shows up on TV shows popular with teens. The shows included:
“Gossip Girl,” “Heroes,” “American Dad,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Family Guy,” “House,” and “The Simpsons.” They also looked at reality shows like “America’s Next Top Model” to measure depictions such as smoking, or even showing a pipe or pack of cigarettes on screen.
TV Shows Still Smokin’
Researchers watched every episode of the season. Of the 73 episodes in the analysis, 40 percent contained at least one depiction of tobacco (mainly cigarettes), double the rate from a similar study 10 years earlier. In all, there were 271 depictions, which worked out to an average of 4.4 depictions an hour.
Published in February 2011, the researchers concluded in their study:
Substantial tobacco use was observed in television shows popular among youth. It is projected that almost 1 million youth were exposed to tobacco depictions through the programming examined. Tobacco use on television should be a cause for concern, particularly because of the high volume of television viewing among younger audiences.
Other research on the connection between hours spent watching TV and young people taking up smoking, it was found that tweens and teens who watched 5 or more hours of TV each day were almost six times more likely to take up smoking than those who watched less than 2 hours.
Why Does It Matter?
Seeing other teens and young adults—celebrities, entertainers, and musicians—smoking can make it seem “cool” or popular. In fact, tobacco companies are counting on it and have invested a lot of time and money to find out the best places to reach teens. Just because the tobacco companies are banned from showing commercials on television doesn’t mean they can’t influence the content of TV shows in other, more subtle ways, or use other tools to influence smoking behavior.
Fortunately, NIDA’s 2011 Monitoring the Future survey of 8th, 10th and 12th graders found that smoking is decreasing to historically low rates among teens, so it appears most young people are smarter than the tobacco marketers had hoped.
Which Program Had the Most Smoking-Related Depictions?
Meanwhile, can you guess which primetime program that the Columbia University and Legacy researchers studied showed the highest incidence of smoking-related depictions? Was it (a) “Gossip Girl,” (b) “Heroes,” or (c) “America’s Next Top Model”? If you picked (c), the reality-based show “America’s Top Model,” you got it right.
Kind of ironic that a show about being beautiful and glamorous shows young girls using an addictive product that eventually will make their teeth yellow, cause premature wrinkling, and possibly lead to cancer, emphysema, or heart disease—none of which is very glamorous!
What do you think about depictions of smoking on TV? To answer the question, you can either write your response in the “Leave a Reply” box below or send us a message. As always, we read all comments and consider all feedback! We look forward to hearing from you.
To learn more about the effect of product placement on teens, check out Drugs: Shatter the Myths.
Many of us don’t realize how much secondhand smoke we inhale each day. We tend to forget about the person smoking outside a restaurant or sitting on a park bench. People’s smoking in the apartment next door affects us as well.
While these encounters with secondhand smoke seem harmless, they can mean a lot to your health.
- Secondhand smoke contains many of the same chemicals as inhaled smoke.
- According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, effects of secondhand smoke kill 42,000 Americans each year, including nearly 900 infants.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in a healthy nonsmoker.
- Another recent study found that people exposed to secondhand smoke have higher rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
To figure out your level of secondhand smoke exposure, doctors can measure the amount of cotinine in your blood, saliva, or urine. Cotinine is the chemical created by the body when nicotine is metabolized. Measuring cotinine levels is more accurate than relying on people to remember how much exposure they have to smoking.
How can you avoid secondhand smoke?
- Politely ask people not to smoke around you.
- Don’t allow smoking in your home or car.
- Encourage people to use designated smoking areas that are far away from building entrances and crowded areas.
- Encourage friends and family members who want to quit smoking.
Are you worried about being exposed to more smoke than you thought? What can you do to reduce your exposure?
That's what a lot of people were asking at the 2009 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Reno a few months ago. Two 16 year olds in San Antonio, Texas, worked together to try and find out. Keystone High's Sehar Anjum Salman and Jada Nicole Dalley showed that third hand smoke—all the toxic chemicals left behind on furniture, car upholstery or clothing after the cigarette smoke floats away—produces as many mutations in newborn fruit flies as second hand smoke—when someone blows their cigarette smoke near you and you breathe it in.
These photos taken by Jada and Sehar show some of the fruit flies they used for their study. Different genetic mutations can affect the color and shape of the flies' eyes, the color of their bodies, the shape of their wings, the number of bristles they have, and many other features. Compare the normal fruit fly (left) with the mutant fruit fly (right) - do you see a difference? (Hint: the mutant fruit fly is probably going to have some trouble flying).
Sehar and Jada won a First Place NIDA Addiction Science Award at the Super Bowl of science fairs for cleverly showing the dangers of third hand smoke—something scientists don't know a lot about. It makes you think twice about hanging out with smokers, even if they're not lighting up! For more information on Sehar and Jada's project, see NIDA's Web site.
As the 1-year anniversary of the signing of the Tobacco Control Act approaches, new rules that let the Government regulate tobacco products are going into effect. Starting on June 22, cigarette packs may no longer use labels that say "light," "low" and "mild." This is because research shows that “light” cigarettes are no safer than regular ones. Also, tobacco companies will no longer be allowed to sponsor cultural and sporting events, distribute logo clothing, give away free samples or sell cigarettes in packages of less than 20—what’s known as "kiddy packs."
Another new law will prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 18, and vending machine sales of tobacco products will be banned except in adults-only places. We did an earlier blog about the ban on candy and fruit-flavored tobacco products, but these new laws will go even further.
This is great news for the public health and for teens, since tobacco products still account for 20 percent of all deaths in the United States each year, and tobacco companies keep trying to recruit new smokers. Every day 1,000 children become addicted to tobacco, and almost 4,000 try their first cigarette, according to John R. Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, who says the tobacco industry spends $34 million every day to try and hook new young smokers.
So, show the tobacco companies you can think for yourself. Smoking is very addictive, so the best advice is (yeah, you’ve heard it before): Don’t start!
More people understand now the harmful effects that smoking has on the body as well as the addictive effects of nicotine. The good news is that teens seem to be getting the message—SBB recently reported that smoking rates among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders are at an all-time low.
But many teens are still smoking—according to the 2011 Monitoring the Future Study PDF [230 KB], 19 percent of high school seniors reported smoking in the past month.
New NIDA research gives yet another reason for teens to avoid lighting that first cigarette—nicotine may “prime” the brain to enhance cocaine’s effects, making it a very dangerous “gateway drug.” That means it could open the door to other drug use.
Science Suggests that Nicotine Changes the Brain
Evidence shows that most people who tried drugs like cocaine were first tobacco or alcohol users. This concept of “gateway drugs” has been controversial, mostly because people question whether prior use of drugs like nicotine, alcohol, or marijuana actually leads to later drug use. Before now, studies have not been able to show a biological reason why smoking or other nicotine use could increase a person’s chances of using illegal street drugs.
That changed when NIDA researchers found that mice exposed to nicotine in their drinking water for at least 7 days showed an increased response to cocaine. Why did this happen? Researchers recognized that nicotine actually changes the structure of your DNA, it reprograms how certain genes are expressed—in particular a gene that has been related to addiction—and ultimately, it enhances the response to cocaine.
Why did this happen? Researchers recognized that nicotine actually changes the structure of your DNA, it reprograms how certain genes are expressed—in particular a gene that has been related to addiction—and ultimately, it enhances the response to cocaine.
Moving on from mice, researchers looked at statistics in humans—in particular at when people began nicotine use and their degree of cocaine dependence: Among cocaine users who smoked cigarettes before starting cocaine, the rate of cocaine dependence was higher compared with those who tried cocaine first (before smoking cigarettes).
The study doesn’t mean that every person who smokes cigarettes will eventually become addicted to cocaine. But it does suggest that if a person who smokes cigarettes tries cocaine, their brains may have been changed by nicotine to make it more likely that they will become addicted to cocaine.
Need help quitting smoking? Take a look at these resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Have you been at a restaurant or party where people are smoking, and acting like their clouds of smoke are no big deal? Do you put up with breathing secondhand smoke to hang out with your friends? In this video, Dr. Gaya Dowling and Dr. Redonna Chandler sink a few balls while sharing some real facts about smoking.
Fact: Nicotine is addictive.
Fact: Most smokers start smoking before the age of 18.
Fact: It only takes eight seconds for the nicotine in cigarette smoke to be inhaled, enter your brain, and start affecting your brain cells—whether or not you're the one who lit up in the first place!
That's less time than it takes most people to cue up and make a shot. Watch the video and see what you think.
Many teens have questions about drugs. On Drug Facts Chat Day, NIDA scientists get to listen in and answer these questions from students all across the country.
Here’s one from “zippy do da” from Kingswood Middle School in New Hampshire:
Why do teens who smoke think they are so cool?
There could be many reasons why teens who smoke think they’re cool—maybe their friends smoke, maybe their parents told them not to smoke, maybe they think it gives them an edgy look, or a temporary high. But the truth is, as far as your health goes—smoking is so not cool.
And who defines cool anyway? What’s cool to one person may not be cool to another. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, coolness is an individual decision. Not everyone thinks that doing something illegal or unhealthy because your friends are doing it is cool. Lots of teens would say its cooler to hold a pen, paintbrush, or drum stick between your fingers, instead of a cigarette.
When our parents were younger, many of them thought “the Fonz” from the hit TV show Happy Days was the epitome of cool. Pretty dorky now.
Today it seems like a lot of teen smokers are figuring out that smoking is not very cool at all. How do we know? Because according to a 2007 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50% of all high school smokers are actively trying to quit. And, according to the recent NIDA-funded Monitoring the Future Study of 8th, 10th and 12th graders, smoking among American teens is at an all time low.
Coolness is a funny thing. Some things are cool one year (or one minute!), and not the next. Other things are cool no matter how much time has passed. What’s cool is also influenced by your gender, age, where you live, and, most of all, by who you are. Check out how one high school student examined the cool factor as a science fair project—it even won her a cool prize. But don’t take our word for it—you decide.