A 2009 survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that 19 percent of high schools students were currently using cigarettes and 14 percent were using cigars each day.
"Smoking has many health risks for everyone," explained Pediatrician Banarikammaje Bhat, M.D. "However, the younger a person is when he or she starts smoking, the more problems it can cause."
-Youth, who use tobacco, develop more respiratory problems and have more asthma attacks, leading to more sick days, more doctor bills, and poorer athletic performance.
-About 30 percent of youth smokers will die early from a smoking-related disease.
-Teen smokers are more likely to use alcohol and other drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana.
-They are more likely to have panic attacks, anxiety disorders and depression.
"Tobacco can be smoked in cigarettes, pipes, or cigars," Dr. Bhat added. "It's also used in smokeless tobacco, known as dip, chew, snuff, spit, or chewing tobacco. These products are put between the lip and gum and sucked on inside the mouth.
"Anyone who starts smoking or using smokeless tobacco products can become addicted, because these products contain nicotine. Some youth get addicted right away. Those who start smoking before the age of 21 have the hardest time quitting when they are adults."
Why Is It So Bad?
"Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year," Dr. Bhat continued. "Tobacco smoke is harmful to every organ system in the body."
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, smoking is responsible for nearly a third of all cancer deaths in the United States, with smokers dying of cancer at twice the rate of nonsmokers. In addition, smoking has been linked to the development of pneumonia, leukemia, heart disease and reproductive problems, such as miscarriage, prematurity, stillbirth, low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and the development of lung problems in infants.
"When people try smoking for the first time, they often cough a great deal and feel pain or burning in their throat and lungs," he said. "This is the lungs' way of trying to protect the body and keep it smoke free. Also, many people say that they feel sick to their stomachs or even throw up. If someone accidentally swallows chewing tobacco, they may be sick for hours."
Perhaps the most serious consequence of smoking is the increased risk of lung cancer. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that cigarette smoking causes nearly 90 percent of all cases of lung cancer, the number one fatal cancer in women and men.
"In addition, the nicotine in tobacco products can cause severe addiction and withdrawal problems," Dr. Bhat advised. "This threat of nicotine addiction is even greater for underage smokers.
"Smoking delivers nicotine to the brain in a matter of seconds, and the effects peak within 10 seconds of inhalation. These effects fade quickly, however, causing the user to crave another dose. Irritability, increased appetite, headache and anxiety are among the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal that often lead smokers to resume the habit."
According to the CDC, as many as 20 percent of high school boys use smokeless tobacco. Of those, one third are under age 21, and more than half of them developed the smokeless habit before they were 13 years old.
Many youth who chew tobacco or dip snuff think it's safer than smoking. "Smokeless tobacco contains more nicotine than cigarettes," Dr. Bhat warned. "Chewing smokeless tobacco or using snuff can eventually kill you, just like cigarettes can. There's no such thing as a safe tobacco product."
About 70 percent of spit tobacco users have mouth sores, but the health consequences are more serious than that for both chew and spit tobacco, including:
- Cracking, bleeding lips and gums; and receding gums, which can make teeth fall out
- Increased heart rate, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeats, leading to a greater risk of heart attacks and stroke
- Cancers in throat, esophagus, etc.
Staying Smoke Free
"Smoking is a difficult habit to break because nicotine is so highly addictive," concluded Dr. Bhat. "Like heroin or other addictive drugs, the body and mind quickly become so used to the nicotine in tobacco products that a person needs to have it just to feel normal.
"The only thing that really helps a person avoid the problems associated with smoking is staying smoke free or totally quitting the use of tobacco products. Those who do will have more energy, better physical performance, a healthier appearance, more money in their pocket, and in the long run, more life to live."
Banarikammaje Bhat, M.D. is a pediatrician affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's medical staff. Dr. Bhat's office is located at 330 North Market Street, Suite B in Lisbon, 330-424-9866.