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If not controlled, later in life it will become a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack. Among young men and women — who are otherwise at very low risk of developing coronary heart disease —cigarette smoking may cause as many as 75 percent of the cases of coronary heart disease. The longer a person smokes, the higher the risk of coronary heart disease. More than 80,000 people die each year from coronary heart diseases caused by smoking.

Most adult smokers started when they were preteens or teenagers; smoking habits in youth seem to determine lifetime cigarette consumption. There’s also evidence that those who begin smoking before they’re 20 have the highest incidence and earliest onset of coronary heart disease and high blood pressure. Autopsy studies of smokers have raised questions about the effects of smoking in childhood and adolescence on the development of fatty buildups in arteries in adulthood.

What about passive or secondhand smoking?About 59 percent of American children ages 4–11 are exposed to secondhand smoke at home. Studies have shown that children (especially infants) of parents who smoke have more lung illnesses, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and can develop asthma. And because smoking parents are more likely to cough and spread germs, their children are more likely to develop chest illnesses. Exposure to tobacco smoke also increases the risk of heart disease.

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With or without the help of Smoke Away, the makers of Smoke Away cannot emphasize enough the importance of education in children as it relates to smoking. Why not set a better example and try to quit smoking in 2008? If you need more help and guidance, why not log onto the Smoke Away Support Group page and talk to people who have been there and done that!

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When your parents were young, people could buy cigarettes and smoke pretty much anywhere — even in hospitals! Ads for cigarettes were all over the place. Today we’re more aware about how bad smoking is for our health. Smoking is restricted or banned in almost all public places and cigarette companies are no longer allowed to advertise on TV, radio, and in many magazines.

Almost everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, emphysema, and heart disease; that it can shorten your life by 10 years or more; and that the habit can cost a smoker thousands of dollars a year. So how come people are still lighting up? The answer, in a word, is addiction.

Once You Start, It’s Hard to Stop

Smoking is a hard habit to break because tobacco contains nicotine, which is highly addictive. Like heroin or other addictive drugs, the body and mind quickly become so used to the nicotine in cigarettes that a person needs to have it just to feel normal.

People start smoking for a variety of different reasons. Some think it looks cool. Others start because their family members or friends smoke. Statistics show that about 9 out of 10 tobacco users start before they’re 18 years old. Most adults who started smoking in their teens never expected to become addicted. That’s why people say it’s just so much easier to not start smoking at all.

How Smoking Affects Your Health

There are no physical reasons to start smoking. The body doesn’t need tobacco the way it needs food, water, sleep, and exercise. In fact, many of the chemicals in cigarettes, like nicotine and cyanide, are actually poisons that can kill in high enough doses.

The body is smart. It goes on the defense when it’s being poisoned. For this reason, many people find it takes several tries to get started smoking: First-time smokers often feel pain or burning in the throat and lungs, and some people feel sick or even throw up the first few times they try tobacco.

The consequences of this poisoning happen gradually. Over the long term, smoking leads people to develop health problems like cancer, emphysema (breakdown of lung tissue), organ damage, and heart disease. These diseases limit a person’s ability to be normally active — and can be fatal. Each time a smoker lights up, that single cigarette takes about 5 to 20 minutes off the person’s life.

Smokers not only develop wrinkles and yellow teeth, they also lose bone density, which increases their risk of osteoporosis (pronounced: ahs-tee-o-puh-row-sus), a condition that causes older people to become bent over and their bones to break more easily. Smokers also tend to be less active than nonsmokers because smoking affects lung power.

Smoking can also cause fertility problems and can impact sexual health in both men and women. Girls who are on the pill or other hormone-based methods of birth control (like the patch or the ring) increase their risk of serious health problems, such as heart attacks, if they smoke.

The consequences of smoking may seem very far off, but long-term health problems aren’t the only hazard of smoking. Nicotine and the other toxins in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes can affect a person’s body quickly, which means that teen smokers experience many of these problems:

  • Bad skin. Because smoking restricts blood vessels, it can prevent oxygen and nutrients from getting to the skin — which is why smokers often appear pale and unhealthy. An Italian study also linked smoking to an increased risk of getting a type of skin rash called psoriasis.
  • Bad breath. Cigarettes leave smokers with a condition called halitosis, or persistent bad breath.
  • Bad-smelling clothes and hair. The smell of stale smoke tends to linger — not just on people’s clothing, but on their hair, furniture, and cars. And it’s often hard to get the smell of smoke out.
  • Reduced athletic performance. People who smoke usually can’t compete with nonsmoking peers because the physical effects of smoking (like rapid heartbeat, decreased circulation, and shortness of breath) impair sports performance.
  • Greater risk of injury and slower healing time. Smoking affects the body’s ability to produce collagen, so common sports injuries, such as damage to tendons and ligaments, will heal more slowly in smokers than nonsmokers.
  • Increased risk of illness. Studies show that smokers get more colds, flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia than nonsmokers. And people with certain health conditions, like asthma, become more sick if they smoke (and often if they’re just around people who smoke). Because teens who smoke as a way to manage weight often light up instead of eating, their bodies lack the nutrients they need to grow, develop, and fight off illness properly.

Kicking Butts and Staying Smoke Free

All forms of tobacco — cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco — are hazardous. It doesn’t help to substitute products that seem like they’re better for you than regular cigarettes, such as filtered or low-tar cigarettes.

The only thing that really helps a person avoid the problems associated with smoking is staying smoke free. This isn’t always easy, especially if everyone around you is smoking and offering you cigarettes. It may help to have your reasons for not smoking ready for times you may feel the pressure, such as “I just don’t like it” or “I want to stay in shape for soccer” (or football, basketball, or other sport).

The good news for people who don’t smoke or who want to quit is that studies show that the number of teens who smoke has dropped dramatically. Today, about 23% of high school students smoke.

If you do smoke and want to quit, you have lots of information and support available. Different approaches to quitting work for different people. For some, quitting cold turkey is best. Others find that a slower approach is the way to go. Some people find that it helps to go to a support group especially for teens. These are sometimes sponsored by local hospitals or organizations like the American Cancer Society. The Internet offers a number of good resources to help people quit smoking.

When quitting, it can be helpful to realize that the first few days are the hardest. So don’t give up. Some people find they have a few relapses before they manage to quit for good.

Staying smoke free will give you a whole lot more of everything — more energy, better performance, better looks, more money in your pocket, and, in the long run, more life to live!

Knowing that preventing smoking even at the youngest of ages is imperative to staying smoke free for life, Smoke Away is there for you as an adult so that you can have a resource for tips on how to quit smoking. For more information on how to quit, you also might want to check out Smoke Away Support, where current and past quitters go to talk about what it takes to quit smoking!

New report spotlights how nicotine affects adolescent brains

WASHINGTON – Teenagers who smoke are five times more likely to drink and 13 times more likely to use marijuana than those who are not smokers, according to a report issued on Tuesday.

The report by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse presented further evidence linking youth smoking to other substance abuse and spotlighted research on how nicotine affects the adolescent brain.

“Teenage smoking can signal the fire of alcohol and drug abuse or mental illness like depression and anxiety,” Joseph Califano, who heads the center and is a former U.S. health secretary, said in a telephone interview.

The report analyzed surveys conducted by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and other data on youth smokers. Most smokers begin smoking before age 18.

Smokers ages 12 to 17 are more likely drink alcohol than nonsmokers — 59 percent compared to 11 percent, the report found. Those who become regular smokers by age 12 are more than three times more likely to report binge drinking than those who never smoked — 31 percent compared to 9 percent.

Binge drinking was defined as having five drinks or more in a row. Asked whether smoking is causing these other behaviors or is just another risky behavior occurring alongside the others, Califano said, “There’s no question that early teenage smoking is linked to these other things. Now whether it’s causing it or not, I think the jury is probably still out on that.”

Smokers ages 12 to 17 are more apt to meet the diagnostic definition for drug abuse or dependence in the previous year — 26 percent compared to 2 percent, the researchers said.

The report noted that marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug among teenagers, with government data from 2005 showing 7 percent of those ages 12 to 17 used marijuana.

Of these, current cigarette smokers are 13 times more likely to use marijuana than those who do not smoke. The younger a child is when he or she starts smoking, the greater the risk, the Columbia team said.

Children who start smoking by age 12 are more than three times more likely to binge on alcohol, nearly 15 times more likely to smoke marijuana and almost seven times more likely to use other drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Teenagers who smoke also have a higher risk of depression and anxiety disorders, the study found.

The report cited scientific studies showing the nicotine in tobacco products can produce structural and chemical changes in the developing brain that make young people vulnerable to alcohol and other drug addiction and mental illness.

This includes effects on the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin and changes to brain receptors associated with an increased desire for other addictive drugs.

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