Parents and adolescents are not educated enough about the dangers of smoking. Each year over 400,000 people die from smoking cigarettes, including those affected indirectly through second-hand smoke. The effects of cigarette smoking are numerous. Some mild effects include shortness of breath and poor circulation. More serious effects include respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema, as well as cancers of the lungs, throat, and mouth. There is overwhelming evidence that almost all smokers begin when they are young. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “More than 80% of adult smokers begin smoking before 18 years of age. Additionally, adolescent smokeless tobacco users are more likely than nonusers to become adult cigarette smokers.” (Youth and Tobacco Use. 1.) Social variables have the largest influence on smoking initiation. In a study published in the International Journal of Clinical Health & Psychology, researchers tested several variables, including self-esteem, income, social context, and perceived risks using logical regression analysis. They concluded that “… the adolescent’s social context (tobacco use among the group of friends as well as by his or her partner) appears to be the most influential variable for adolescent smoking” (Garcia-Rodriguez et al. 29). Based on my research, the most effective way to reduce the number of smokers in the United States is to prevent smoking initiation in adolescents.
To begin the topic on cigarette smoking, cigarettes contain harmful chemicals including carcinogens, toxic metals, radioactive toxic metals, and poisons (Martin). A carcinogen is defined as any substance that can cause or aggravate cancer. Some carcinogens include tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines, benzene, pesticides, and formaldehydes. Approximately 60% of the chemicals in cigarettes are known to cause cancer. “Toxic / heavy metals are metals and metal compounds that have the potential to harm our health when absorbed or inhaled. In very small amounts, some of these metals support life, but when taken in large amounts, can become toxic” (Martin). Some examples are Arsenic, which is commonly used in rat poison, and Cadmium, which is used in batteries. Furthermore, science has discovered approximately 200 poisonous gases in cigarette smoke including ammonia, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and nicotine (Martin). These poisons can cause severe physical distress or death. All of these additives should be informed to cigarette smokers, especially adolescents, so they are aware of what they are taking into their body before it is too late to fix. Adolescents are not as knowledgeable or as perceptive as adults. The period of adolescence is one in which individuals are undergoing physiological and psychological changes, usually between 13 and 19 years of age. It stands to reason that many adolescents make decisions and take actions without full knowledge of the consequences of these decisions and actions. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers concluded that perceptions of smoking related risks were predictive of smoking initiation in adolescents. This study looked at perceptions of long-term risks, short-term risks and perceived benefits.
Both long-term and short-term risk perception correlated highly with smoking initiation. “Adolescents who held the lowest perceptions of long-term smoking-related risks were 3.64 times more likely to start smoking than were adolescents who held the highest perceptions of risk. Adolescents who held the lowest perceptions of short-term smoking-related risks were 2.68 times more likely to initiate smoking” (Song et al. 487). Those who associated smoking with higher negative consequences were less likely to start smoking, and those who were less knowledgeable or perceptive about the risks of smoking were more likely to start smoking. Furthermore, those who believed that smoking had benefits were more likely to begin smoking as well. “Adolescents who held the highest perceptions of smoking-related benefits were 3.31 times more likely to initiate smoking” (Song et al. 487). Researchers concluded that “…adolescents’ decisions about tobacco use are based on a balance of both perceived risks and perceived benefits” (Song et al. 491). These findings indicate that educating adolescents about long-term risks is not sufficient. Although smoking cigarettes have terrible long-term effects, short-term risks and perceived benefits also predict smoking initiation. More effort should be taken to decrease the perceived benefits that many adolescents have about cigarette smoking. They should also be educated about short-term risks as well. The best way to cut down on adolescent smoking initiation is to reduce perceptions of benefits associated with smoking and to educate teens about both short term and long term risks.
According to the SEMCA Workforce Development Board, short-term risks of cigarette smoking are not pretty. They include “bad breath, yellow and brown stained teeth and fingers, smelly clothes, car, furniture and homes that reek.” (Tobacco. 9.) For adolescents to have these physical appearances is a very unattractive trait, especially at such a young age. Aside from effects on physical appearance, cigarette smokers spend a lot of their money to satisfy their habits. “Tobacco users pay higher health insurance premiums and miss more days of work every year. Collectively, the United States loses more than $157 billion every year in health-care costs and lost productivity due to tobacco use” (Tobacco. 11). This is another reason to why adolescents should be prevented from smoking cigarettes. Once smoking is initiated, it is very difficult to start. Therefore, if adolescents start smoking at their young age, the amount of money they spend on buying cigarette packs and the amount they pay for health-care will add up to a great amount when they become an adult.
Media influence is another factor in adolescent smoking initiation. In a study published in Lancet, researchers concluded “Our results suggest that viewing smoking in movies strongly predicts whether or not adolescents initiate smoking, and the effect increases significantly with greater exposure” (Dalton et al. 284). They concluded that there is a high correlation between exposure to cigarette smoking in movies and smoking initiation. Those who received more exposure were more likely to begin smoking than those who received less. Another interesting finding in this study was that children in non-smoking households were more likely to be effected by exposure to cigarette smoking in movies than those from smoking households. This may be because those from non-smoking homes do not have a realistic perception of smoking, so their mental perceptions of smoking are influenced entirely by the movies. If this is the case, then the media has a very large influence on adolescents, and more should be done to reduce exposure to movies that portray cigarette smoking. One way is for those who advocate against adolescent smoking to campaign for the reduction of cigarette smoking in movies. Perhaps the best solution is to educate parents about these findings because this is something that is not well-known, yet very significant.
Media may also be a possible source of the perceived benefits of smoking cigarettes among adolescents. In 1990, a telephone survey was designed to describe a group of adolescents who have no smokers in their social environment and to examine their beliefs regarding the benefits of smoking. 7,767 adolescent respondents between 12 and 17 years of age in California were surveyed. As a result, 40% of unexposed teenagers held such a belief with 28% believing that smoking helps people feel more comfortable in social situations, 19% believing that smoking helps people relax and 13% believing that smoking helps people keep their weight down (Prokhorow). This suggests that cigarette advertising is a source of these perceptions because the respondents did not have any smokers in their social environment. This further emphasizes the idea that cigarette smoking should be reduced, or even prevented, among adolescents because they are still naïve enough to believe that it is beneficial to smoke because it is a weight loss aid. Something else people may not be aware of is the fact that there is a genetic component to smoking initiation. According to a study published in Behavior Genetics there is strong evidence that genetics plays a large factor in smoking initiation. According to this study, “The overall heritability in the VA30,000 data was estimated to be 71% in males and 65% in females” (Maes et al. 805). They accounted for other factors, such as the environment, but still concluded that genetic factors were significant. Consequently, parents have a very important role in smoking initiation among adolescents; therefore, they should take into account for preventing their child from starting to smoke in the first place. Another interesting finding was that the relationship between parental smoking and child smoking was largely genetic and not behavioral or based on modeling. Mothers should quit smoking when they are pregnant to prevent any defectiveness of their babies and fathers should quit smoking when mothers are pregnant as well, so neither the mother nor the baby inhales secondhand smoke. In another study published in Substance Abuse, Treatment, Prevention & Policy, researchers concluded that “Parental smoking influences children’s smoking
independent of impacting child attitudes as well as influencing their children’s attitudes toward smoking, which in turn may increase the likelihood of the child smoking” (Wilkinson, Shete, and Prokhorov 7). Simply the act of smoking, independent of parents’ attitude toward smoking had an effect on increasing the chances of their children smoking. Their attitudes toward smoking also had an effect. Both this study and the previous study show how influential parents are to their children, through genetics, their behaviors, and the environmental context that the parent and child share. For this reason I think the most impactful actions toward reducing smoking initiation in young teens must come from parents: they have the power and influence to mold their children’s behaviors and attitudes regarding smoking. Therefore, they should strictly prevent their children from smoking initiation. So what are the effects of smoking? According to the CDC, “The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States” (Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking). Smoking causes many types of cancer, including lung cancer and throat cancer, but also includes others such as kidney cancer, cervical cancer, and bladder cancer. Less severe respiratory diseases that arise from smoking include emphysema and bronchitis. Smoking cigarettes constricts blood vessels, which may also lead to heart disease and arterial damage. In the end, there aren’t any positive effects of smoking. It may relieve stress in the meantime, but in the long run it is very unhealthy and negatively affects your physical appearances. There is also evidence that there are negative psychological effects as well. As a start, nicotine addiction is a psychological addiction, which makes it even more difficult to quit smoking. Smokers claim that cigarettes have a calming effect, relieve stress and enhance their mood. Research has shown that cigarettes do have a calming effect and can change the smoker’s mood, which somewhat explains why people smoke in the first place. Consequently, when a person tries to quit smoking, the physical addiction can be overcome within days, but the psychological addiction to nicotine can last for years. Many people who have trouble quitting turn to acupuncture, hypnotherapy, or support groups for assistance. Hypnosis is the most often used alternative method to quit smoking, other than nicotine-laced aids or nicotine-free aids. It “puts you in an altered state of mind where you are
open to suggestions” (Ladock). Acupuncture is another alternative method that is known to be more effective than hypnotherapy. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice in which the therapist places needles in certain body parts to treat an illness or, in this case, to help people quit smoking. “The acupuncture treatments will focus on the jitters, the cravings, the irritability, and the restlessness that people commonly complain about when they quit. It will also aid in relaxation and detoxification” (Ladock). Acupuncture may not necessarily help everyone quit cigarette smoking but it may help patients to relax without having to smoke a cigarette. Those who are serious about trying to quit smoking should try all different types of methods to help them. Furthermore, second-hand smoke may in fact be more dangerous that directing inhaled cigarette smoke. Second-hand smoke is also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). It is composed of both the mainstream smoke, smoke that smokers exhale, and the sidestream smoke, smoke floating from the end of the cigarette. Although the number of people affected by second-hand smoke is not as high as the number of people affected by first-hand smoking, the effects are just as lethal. According to the American Cancer Society, around 46,000 people die each year from heart disease because of second-hand smoke (Secondhand Smoke. 11.). The high number of death is very unfortunate because second-hand smokers do not intentionally inhale the smoke, but unintentionally breathe in the polluted smoke that smokers have exhaled. In addition, according to the 2006 Surgeon General’s report, there is no safe level of second-hand smoke. “Separation of smoking and non-smoking areas within enclosed places, such as restaurants, is not effective in cutting down the effects of second-hand smoke” (Tobacco Smoke and Asthma). From personal experience, I can agree with this report. My family take casual family vacations to Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, NJ. My dad purposely chooses the non-smoking room to stay in because my mom and I despise the smell of cigarettes. However, I am still able to smell the disgusting cigarette odor from the non-smoking floors. Furthermore, Second-hand smoke has been linked to lung cancer, breast cancer, and other types of diseases. Children are very sensitive to second-hand smoke and it can cause premature death, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, various other respiratory problems, as well as fatal diseases such as lung cancer, and heart disease. Also, children exposed to
second-hand smoke at home are seven times more likely to smoke. Since it is very difficult to prevent cigarette smoking in public areas, non-smokers should either choose a different area that is strictly non-smoking or try to stay as far away from the smokers. It’s clear that the negative effects of smoking far outweigh the perceived benefits that smokers have. The causes of smoking can be social, genetic, or due to lack of education. Adolescents take action without full knowledge of the consequences; therefore, they must be informed about the short-term risks along with the long-term risks of cigarette smoking. From the research, it is apparent that social factors have the largest influence on smoking initiation. This includes parents as well as peers. Parents have the power and influence so they should reduce smoking initiation in their own child or children. The most effective way to reduce smoking initiation is to educate parents about the social and genetic causes as well as the harmful physical and psychological effects of smoking, and encourage them to increase their roles and influence in the lives of their children.
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