The Effects of Smoking on Teenagers and Young Adults

90% of smokers began smoking before the age of 19. In 2017, 3.6 million American middle and high school students reported being smokers. These statistics reveal how big a problem teen smoking is and continues to be in the United States. Our goal is to reveal the reasons why young people start to smoke, and then find ways to stop it before it starts.

Author: Christina Matthews
Last updated: February 28, 2019
teenager smoking with peers
Diego Cervo/Shutterstock

Adolescence is a turbulent period in every person’s life. It’s a time when not only our bodies, but our whole mindsets change. Teens can have a hard time during their adolescence, which can sometimes lead to bad decision-making. One of the most common bad habits that young adults develop is smoking. What’s interesting about smoking is that it doesn’t have to be a consequence of some negative event. There are several reasons why teenagers start to smoke. In this article, we are going to discuss the most notable reasons why teenagers start smoking. We will also explore the ways parents can take action to stop their children from smoking.

Why do teens smoke?

It’s estimated that around 1,300 people die because of smoking every day. According to the same source, for every death caused by cigarettes, there are two healthy young adults or teens that pick up smoking for the first time. No one can say what it is exactly that makes young people start smoking. Here are a few theories put forth for why they start smoking.

handsome boy smoking

Social influences

  • The media factor – The media’s influence on young people is vast. It spreads from clothing to music, social relationships, and many other aspects of especially movies. For proof of this, a 2014 Surgeon General’s report found that 37% of smoking initiations began with movies. The movie industry has a specifically large influence with an estimated 37 percent of smoking initiations caused by movie influence.
  • Peer pressure. An article published by CBC shows that peer pressure is one of the most powerful social influences when it comes to developing a smoking habit among teens.
  • Parents that smoke cigarettes – A parent who smokes can normalize the behavior in an adolescent’s mind, making it acceptable to begin.
  • Bad family situation – Kids tend to reach for cigarettes as a means to cope with the stress of living in a less than functional family.

Biological influences

  • A teen’s body is more susceptible to addictive substances – It’s estimated that teenagers are easier to develop a habit because the pacifying effect of nicotine feels good and their bodies keep asking for more once the initial effect fades.
  • Genetics – There are several studies that indicate that addictive personalities are something that we can inherit with our DNA. This leads to a conclusion that some teenagers simply have a firmer base for addiction development.
  • Metabolism – The body of a young adult can process nicotine much faster than the older people. That’s one of the reasons why the need for more nicotine develops with the teenagers, which eventually results in nicotine addiction.
  • Smoking during pregnancy – This one is rather simple if the mother is smoking during pregnancy it is more likely that the child will develop a taste for cigarettes as well.

Mental state influences

  • Stress – teens are prone to developing the habit of smoking each time they feel under pressure.
  • Mental health conditions – Depression, anxiety, weight issues, etc., these are all common reasons behind teen cigarette addiction.

hands with lighter


A survey conducted by CDC which included middle and high school kids from almost every state in the US showed an astonishing picture. These statistics show that 25 states have a teen smoking rate of between 10 and 19 percent. This means that half of the country is dealing with a high number of teens already addicted to smoking.

This is what the Top 10 list looks like:

  • West Virginia 18.8%
  • Guam 17.6%
  • Kentucky 16.9%
  • Arkansas 15.7%
  • Wyoming 15.7%
  • Mississippi 15.2%
  • Alabama 14.0%
  • Nebraska 13.3%
  • Montana 13.1%
  • North Carolina 13.1%

However, these numbers are not what’s really frightening when it comes to teen smoking. Additional CDC data indicates that teen smoking has been dropping for a while now. According to the Center for Disease Control, this is where the current figures stand at when it comes to kids involved with tobacco-related products:

  • 11.3 percent of teens used e-cigarettes. This is a significant drop since 2015 when the statistics reached 16 percent figure
  • 8 percent smoked traditional cigarettes
  • 7.7 percent of high school students were enjoying cigars
  • 9.6 percent of teenagers confirmed that they have used two or more tobacco products
  • 4.3 percent of kids attending middle school used vaping products of some sort
  • 2.2 percent of middle school students used cigarettes

The numbers shown above indicate the percentage of kids that confirmed they have used tobacco products in the last 30 days, which is the period that CDC defines as “current use”.

Vaping trend among teenagers

Adults have started vaping instead of smoking. According to some studies, the amount of harmful materials that a person introduces to its system is much lesser with electronic cigarettes. On the other side, vaping is becoming more and more popular with teenagers. According to research, in 2015 there were around 2,070 adults that went from regular cigarettes to vaping. At the same time, an astonishing 168,000 teenagers that used vaping devices turned to conventional, combustible cigarettes. As a confirmation of this trend, a separate study indicates that teens who vape are more susceptible to using conventional cigarettes than kids that never used any vaping product.

smoking daughther

How to know that your teenager is smoking?

There are various red flags that can help parents realize what is going on with their children. For example, the smell of cigarette smoke on their clothes, hair, or in their breath. Before washing your teenager’s clothes, see if it smells strange. Also pay attention to burn spots on furniture, clothes and carpets.

Some less obvious indicators include:

  • Increased use of mouthwash or chewing gums to cover the smell on their breath
  • Teeth turning yellow due to cigarette smoke
  • Yellowish stains appearing on their fingertips and fingernails
  • Sudden, persistent cough

The best way to actually know if your kid is smoking or not is to develop trust between you and your children that would lead to an honest answer when you ask your kid if it’s smoking.

girl and boy smoking

Tips for helping your teen quit smoking/vaping

One of the most important tasks of a parent is to help their child lead a long, healthy life. To do this, here are a few tips for parents to help their teen quit smoking/vaping.

Deglamorize smoking or vaping

The growing influence of vaping subculture in social media can easily influence teens to start vaping or smoking. Talk to your kids and let them know all the downsides of that cool, rebellious look that comes with the smoking. Otherwise, your teenage curiosity and the drive to explore new things could lead to the development of an unhealthy habit.

Keep your vaping accessories out of reach

If you’re going for the alternative to smoking, make sure not to allow your kids access to your vaping equipment.Vaping gear might attract young people who do not know what it is to play or handle it. Not to mention the health hazards in case your young adult ingests e-liquid which contains nicotine and could lead to poisoning.

Have the talk

Try to explain to your teen all the negative aspects of smoking, let them know that vaping is a healthier alternative, but still an alternative to smoking.

Talk about the reasons that sparked interest with your teenager, and perhaps you will find a deeper issue that both of you should be working on.

Set an example

The best possible thing you could to in order to help your kid lead a healthy life is to never start smoking or quit. Your kids look up to you, and if you show them the right path, your kids will follow.


Take time to talk to your children, learn what their interests are, see what troubles them and try to prevent them from dealing with issues in a wrong way. If you’re dealing with your child’s addiction to nicotine, try and be as much understanding as possible, develop mutual trust so your words and care would have a more profound impact. After all, it’s your job to make sure your kid has all the means to lead a happy, healthy life.


Leave a comment

13 comments on “The Effects of Smoking on Teenagers and Young Adults

  • drew

    November 8, 2018 at 11:24 am

    if you vape nicotine then that the down side because it still can cause cancer symptoms but if you vape Cannabidiol or also known as cbd it can help with alot of things and it also is healthier for your lungs.

  • You ain't knowing my name :(

    September 19, 2018 at 11:59 pm

    Vape is not gooooood for you neither is smoking and for sake a 13 year old what he actual

  • Tenanoia Tenikom

    September 5, 2018 at 2:32 am

    this article is so informative and i just love it!!.

  • Hana gerges

    August 10, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    How can I help a stubborn teenager to quit smoking in a convincing way ?

  • beulah

    June 16, 2018 at 3:28 am

    maybe you inhaled exhaust of a car by mistake can that be called smoking too

    • Corey

      June 22, 2018 at 7:24 am

      No Because the fumes that comes from a car are emissions not smoke and even the cars that do smoke they are completely different chemicals than the chemicals in a cigarette

  • Kyileereed

    June 4, 2018 at 1:53 am

    Im a kid my self but i dont smoke but my bestfriend whos 13 do how can i help her stop

    • Tenanoia Tenikom

      September 5, 2018 at 2:33 am

      advice him not to and tell him that it is harmful and that it will affect his health in future.

  • Doing a project

    April 5, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    good article

  • Murron & Mya

    February 27, 2018 at 11:10 am

    pure love it

  • Murron & Mya

    February 27, 2018 at 11:09 am

    love the website name <3 xx

  • Please answer

    February 20, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    Who was the author of this article?

    • murron & Mya

      March 5, 2018 at 11:49 am