Smoking in Teens

Overview

Nicotine is dangerous and addictive. Tobacco kills more people in the United States each year than alcohol, cocaine, crack, heroin, car crashes, murders, suicide, fires, and AIDS combined.

When you smoke:

  • Your body starts to need nicotine. Nicotine changes your brain chemistry, and eventually, your brain won't function normally without it.
  • Your body becomes starved of oxygen. Smoking coats your lungs with tar and kills the air sacs that help you breathe.
  • You are putting smoke in your body that contains things like arsenic (in rat poison), acetone (in nail polish remover), and formaldehyde (used to preserve dead bodies), and nearly 4,000 other chemicals – things that you would never want inside you.

Even cigarettes called "natural" or "additive free" contain many of the same chemicals that are found in regular cigarettes. Cigars, cloves, bidis, and hookahs do the same things to your body as cigarettes.

Tobacco companies will say anything to get you addicted to nicotine, even if it costs you your life. That's how they stay in business. They don't show you the stained teeth and wrinkles that really come with smoking. Ask yourself if giving the tobacco companies your money is really worth the risks.

Benefits of Quitting

Quitting smoking will make you feel better, look better, and save you a lot of money. Ask yourself what you would want to spend $700 on? If you smoke a pack a day, you've already spent that money, and in as little as 6 months.

Cutting out tobacco reduces the risk of several cancers, lung diseases, coronary heart disease, and stroke. After quitting, you'll notice positive changes right away. Some of the benefits of quitting begin within minutes after you have your last cigarette. Once you stop smoking, your body begins to heal almost immediately:

After 24 hours the oxygen levels in your blood go back to normal. The chance of heart attack goes down.

After 1 to 9 months circulation, smell, and taste improve. Your lungs work better. You have more energy and fewer colds.

After 1 year your risk of heart disease is cut in half compared to what it was when you smoked.

After 5 years your risk of stroke drops significantly.

After 10 years the risk of lung cancer drops to half that of people who still smoke.

Once you give up cigarettes you will:

  • Save money (about $1,400 a year!)
  • Smell better
  • Get fewer colds
  • Have more energy and feel better overall
  • Breathe better
  • Notice that food tastes better

Ask yourself why you started smoking in the first place. Some people start because people around them smoke, or because they want to fit in. Others are just curious. Whatever the reason, 70 percent of smokers between 12 and 17 years old wish they had never started smoking. And remember, smoking kills more than 400,000 people each year in the United States.

How to Quit

First, set a date to quit on your calendar. Then get ready to quit:

  • Ask for support from your family and friends or find someone to quit with you.
  • Keep track of your smoking. Keep a journal and write down when, where, and why you smoke each cigarette. Doing this can help you understand how smoking first got into your life and how you can replace it with healthy activities when you quit.
  • Try going without a cigarette. Don't smoke when you first get a craving. Distract yourself or talk to a friend. Most cravings go away within 10 minutes so work on getting through that time without a cigarette.
  • Pick blocks of time during the day when you don't smoke. (For example, tell yourself "I won't smoke after 3 p.m.") This helps you practice being a nonsmoker.

Talk to us about how we can help. Or ask your school counselor about programs for teens. You can also call the California Smokers' Helpline (1-800-NO-BUTTS) for free, confidential help any time.

Sticking With It

After you quit, try to keep very busy for the first few days. Find smoke-free activities, like going to a movie or the mall. You can also:

  • Stock up on sugarless gum and water. This can be especially helpful if you're going to be around smokers.
  • Know that a single "slip-up" won't ruin your plans. Forgive yourself and think about why you smoked so that you can deal with that situation differently in the future.
  • Know that the worst will be over in just a few days, but physical withdrawal symptoms can last a few weeks.
  • Get rid of lighters, ashtrays, and all of your cigarettes.
  • Keep your hands busy. Try holding a pencil or paper clip.
  • Take it one day at a time. Focus on getting through today without smoking. You can just say, "no thanks, I'm quitting" if someone offers you a cigarette at a party.
  • Avoid difficult situations where you're around smokers. Focus on your goal of being a nonsmoker.
  • Keep low-calorie snacks on hand, like air-popped popcorn, baby carrots, or fruit.
  • Reward yourself whenever you achieve a goal. Treat yourself to something that you really want.

People who want to quit smoking really can quit. Half of all people in the United States who ever smoked no longer smoke. Quitting can be hard for people who are addicted, especially if they've been smoking for a long time. It's easier for you to quit now, while you're still young.

For Parents of Teens

You play an important role in helping your teen stay away from tobacco. Talk with your teen about the dangers of smoking.

If you think your teen has a problem with using tobacco, please call me. We can work together to provide you and your teen with resources and support.

How teen care is different

In partnership with you as a parent, we want to teach our young adolescent patients to begin to take charge of their personal health care as they transition from childhood to adulthood.

We sometimes request confidential time with teens to ask about sensitive issues. Time alone allows us to address important health and safety issues. It also gives your teen a chance to confidentially ask questions or voice concerns about topics that may be embarrassing. Many teens (and adults) find it difficult to talk about sensitive issues and prefer to see their doctor privately.

As your teen's doctor, I also want to talk with you about your questions or concerns. At your teen's appointment, please let the medical assistant or nurse know if you have any specific concerns that you wish to discuss. I will make sure to set aside time during the appointment to talk with you.

Contacting me

For nonurgent concerns or questions, you can e-mail me using this site, once you have set up access to manage your teen's health. Use the Manage Your Family's Health links to get started.

If your concerns or questions are immediate, or you simply prefer to use the telephone, please call our Appointment and Advice line, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our advice nurses can give you immediate advice, and our telephone staff can send me a message or schedule an appointment for your teen.


If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following:
(1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder.

This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.