A teenager is smoking.

During the early 2000s, New Jersey was at the forefront of tobacco prevention. REBEL (Reaching Everyone By Exposing Lies), NJ’s youth anti-tobacco movement, was represented in every county throughout the state. REBEL helped pass legislation, including the Clean Indoor Air Act and changing the age of sale in NJ to 19. We began to see the number of youth who were smoking decrease, and children no longer had the perception that smoking was “cool.”

Unfortunately, as the number of new smokers decreased, so did the funds allocated to tobacco use prevention. With the growing popularity of e-cigarettes and vapes, we are now seeing the number of kids using tobacco products on the rise again. The new perception is that e-cigs are not harmful at all, and kids are bombarded with this message all over. When they walk into any convenience store, there are countless advertisements for vapors, e-cigs, and other tobacco products. 

Youth and tobacco use

It’s particularly important to teach your children about the dangers of tobacco use, as it is most commonly started and established in adolescence. Now that some tobacco products have flavorings, this can make them even more appealing to youths. 

While tobacco use among youths is still on a downward trend, there are many options for children and teens to experiment with today.

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes)

Since 2014, e-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product by middle- and high-school students. While usage of e-cigarettes increased between 2017 and 2019, current use of e-cigs (over the past 30 days) went down amongst middle and high school students between 2019 and 2020. 

In 2020, about 1 out of 20 middle school students and about 1 out 5 high school students reported using e-cigs, both (a decrease from 2019. 

Cigarettes

From 2011 to 2020, current cigarette smoking decreased among middle and high school students. 

In 2020, nearly 2 out of every 100 middle school students, and nearly 5 out of 100 high school students, reported smoking cigarettes, which is a decrease from 2011.

Cigars

Current cigar use has decreased among middle and high school students from 2011 to 2020. 

In 2020, nearly 2 out of every 100 middle school students, and roughly 5 out of every 100 high school students, reported using cigars, which is a decrease from 2011.

Smokeless tobacco

From 2011 to 2020, current smokeless tobacco use has decreased among middle and high school students. 

In 2020, about 1 out of every 100 middle school students and 3 out of every 100 high school students reported using smokeless tobacco, which is a decrease from 2011. 

Hookah

The current use of hookahs did not change much between 2011 and 2020 in middle school students. In high school students, however, hookah use initially decreased between 2011 and 2019, but then saw no change between 2019 and 2020. 

In 2020, nearly 1 out of every 100 middle school students smoked hookah, a 0.3% increase from 2011. Meanwhile, in 2020, nearly 3 out of 100 high school students reported using a hookah, which is a decrease from 2011.

Heated tobacco products

Heated tobacco products, otherwise known as heat-not-burn products, provide nicotine to the user by heating the tobacco leaves rather than burning them or using a nicotine-containing liquid, like e-cigs.

In 2020, about 1 out of every 100 middle school students and about 1 out of every 100 high school students reported using a heated tobacco product. 

The dangers of tobacco

Even with the number of youths using tobacco decreasing, there are still children at risk of dying from tobacco-related disease. Secondhand smoke is a dangerous consequence for those who do not smoke but happen to be around others who do. It is also a very common consequence: 42.5% of students aged 13 to 15 years are exposed to secondhand smoke in the home, and 55.1% are exposed to secondhand smoke in public places. 

Health consequences for those who are actually doing the smoking can be both short-term and long-term. It is generally thought that smoking is only harmful after a long period of time, but many health consequences can come on quickly. Smoking causes mild airway obstruction, diminished lung function, and slowed the growth of lung function in adolescents. Resting heart rates of youths who smoke are two to three beats-per-minute faster than nonsmokers. It has also been shown that early signs of stroke and heart disease can be found in those youth who smoke. Long-term health consequences include lung cancer, stomach cancer, stroke, and coronary heart disease. 

Talking to your kids about tobacco

It’s important to talk to your children about tobacco in order to protect them from the consequences of using tobacco products. Here are some important tips for having tobacco-related conversations with your child:

  • Begin conversations early. Be sure to start talking to your child about tobacco use early on, as young as five or six years old, especially if they are asking questions about smoking.
  • Be direct. Explicitly explain to your child why it’s dangerous to use tobacco products, as well as ways they can avoid it or say no to peer pressure..
  • Share your experiences. Don’t be afraid to share your own experiences with tobacco products: if you’ve ever used it or if you haven’t. Talk about friends or family members who regret smoking or have experienced health concerns as a result.
  • Discuss the undesirable physical side effects of smoking. Make sure they know that smoking causes yellow teeth and nails, bad breath, smelly clothes, and skin wrinkles, as well as poor lung health.
  • Be a good listener. This is especially important to bear in mind when talking to teenagers about tobacco. Try not to interrupt, ask questions or for more details when needed, and be sure to respectfully disagree.

It takes a village to raise healthy children, and if we all work together, we can start to see the number of new smokers, again, decline. If you would like more information or want to join the tobacco task force, contact Mara Carlin at Mara.Carlin@WellspringPrevention.org or 732-254-3344 x113.

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