Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Families Meeting the Challenge

Family and Consumer Sciences
Campbell Hall 1787 Neil Avenue Columbus, Ohio 43210

Teen Tobacco Use

Lisa Gorman

        Ninety percent of smokers begin smoking by the age of 19. Nicotine is considered the number one entrance into other substance abuse. Adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 who smoke daily are 15 times more likely to use illicit drugs than their peers. Substance abuse is a learned behavior. Teens who begin smoking learn to use the substance. The earlier youth begin using tobacco, the more likely they will continue use into adulthood.

    Why is tobacco use addicting? The nicotine in tobacco acts as a stimulant, depressant, or tranquilizer depending on the dosage. An individual builds up tolerance to tobacco use, requiring larger doses to maintain a certain physiological effect. When the body becomes accustomed to the presence of nicotine, it then requires the chemical to function normally. This level of dependence is referred to as an addiction.

    Teens who are addicted to tobacco have several common experiences. A number of them tried their first cigarette in the sixth or seventh grade. Smokers often do not perform well at school. They do not feel they are a part of school and are isolated from those students who are active in sports. Most of the smokers feel they have little hope of going to college or getting a good job after high school. They also report addictions to other substances, such as alcohol. They experience pressure from home and school, and use tobacco as a form of relief. In addition, teen smokers enjoy trying to hide their smoking or outwit school administration. This has made school more fun for some tobacco users.

    Tobacco use has short-term and long-term physiologic, cosmetic, social, and economic consequences. Both cigarette smoking and smokeless tobacco use have direct health consequences. Even though people are aware of the health hazards, many find it difficult to stop using tobacco. According to a 1993 Nebraska study, rural youth are not exempt from drug use. In fact, these youth were at a greater risk of alcohol and tobacco use than their national peers.

Why Teens Begin Smoking

    The initiation of smoking is influenced by having a friend, particularly a best friend, who smokes. Risk factors indicate that teens who have close association with peers who use or have favorable attitudes toward tobacco use are more apt to use it themselves, especially if they are vulnerable to peer pressure. Youth associated with informal peer groups are more susceptible to tobacco use. On the other hand, memberships in pro-social youth groups decrease a youth's likelihood to begin smoking.

    Peers are not the only influence on teen tobacco use. Parental smoking establishes nicotine use as normative behavior. Mass media presentation of smoking, whether in television, movie, or sporting events, makes tobacco use attractive and downplays the negative health consequences. To further compound the problem, irregular teen smokers who develop a nicotine addiction have easy access to tobacco. In fact, when there is a double standard or a permitted smoking time and location, unclear messages are sent about smoking endorsements.

Decreasing Tobacco Use Among Teens


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Fibkins, William L., (1993), "Combating Student Tobacco Addiction in Secondary Schools," NASSP Bulletin, December.

"Guidelines for School Health Program to Prevent Tobacco Use and Addiction," (1994), Journal of School Health, Vol. 64, No. 9, November.

Lynch, Barbara S. & Richard J. Bonnie, (1994). Growing Up Tobacco Free. Washington D.C., National Academy Press.

Nelson-Simley, Kathleen & Laurel Erickson, (1995), "The Nebraska 'Network of Drug-Free Youth' Program," Journal of School Health, Vol. 65, No. 2, February.

Peck, Diane DiGiacomo & Connie Acott, (1993), "The Colorado Tobacco-Free Schools and Communities Project," Journal of School Health, Vol. 63, No. 5, May.