Tobacco Use Prevention for Children & Teens

Nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18 and nearly all began by age 26, according to The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Current rates indicate that 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness. That’s about 1 of every 13 Americans aged 17 years or younger alive today. Each day in the United States, more than 3,800 youth aged 18 years or younger smoke their first cigarette, and another 2,100 youth and young adults become daily cigarette smokers.

Rhode Island has one of the lowest smoking rates of high school teens among all U.S. states at 4.8% (2015). However tobacco use in any form threatens to reverse these gains by renormalizing smoking combustible or lit cigarettes by getting youth addicted to nicotine through other products first.

Tobacco use in any form for children and teens is unsafe. This includes combustible or lit cigarettes, cigar use, flavored tobacco products, electronic cigarettes, hookah, smokeless tobacco, dissolvable tabs, and other emerging tobacco products. Many young people who smoke also experience a wide range of negative health effects even after short-term use.

Youth Health Risks

Adolescent Brain Damage

Nicotine from smoking can damage the developing brain by stunting the growth of the prefrontal cortex. This is where the brain manages impulse control, making personal choices, and weighing consequences. This can have an effect on overall mental health and alter a young person’s ability to avoid risky decisions or make rational decisions about health, like deciding to quit smoking and cutting all forms of tobacco use they know have dangers. more

More Health Risks

In addition to many different cancers and lung disease, smoking and tobacco use can cause these more immediate health issues for young people, and more:

  • Acne
  • Hearing loss
  • Dental and oral health problems
  • Premature wrinkles
  • Heart problems
  • Breathing problems
  • Cell damage (can lead to cancer)
  • Belly fat
  • Hormone problems
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Weakened immune system
  • Muscle problems
  • Weakened bones

How Teens Are Getting Hooked by Big Tobacco

Teen Addiction

Recent research suggests that biology is a big reason why youth are especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction, smoking, and all forms of tobacco use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The human brain is still “under construction” until early adulthood, so the brains of children and teens are highly sensitive to addictive substances including nicotine, according to Smokefree Teen, an initiative of the National Cancer Institute Tobacco Control Research Branch. Many teens show signs of addiction even at low levels of tobacco use.

Looks like candy. Tastes like candy. Hooks and kills like tobacco

Flavored tobacco

Human biology makes children and teens most vulnerable to nicotine addiction. Meanwhile, tobacco industry marketing, in-store promotions, cheaper pricing, and candy-like, sweetened flavored tobacco products appeal mainly to young people. Flavorings in addictive tobacco products, including hookah and e-cigarette liquids, mask the harsh taste of tobacco. In 2014, 73% of U.S. high school students and 56% of middle school students who used tobacco products in the past 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product during that time. more

The federal government bans combustible or lit cigarettes from being sold with flavors (except menthol), however other types of nicotine and tobacco-based products are now found by youth in many flavors: Inexpensive flavored cigars,“ little cigars”, cigarillos, chew, snus, dissolvable tablets, hookah, disposable e-cigarettes, and refillable electronic “vaping” devices, to name a few. Kid-friendly flavors include:

  • Grape
  • Srawberry licorice
  • Cotton candy
  • Cherry
  • Sweet tarts
  • Mango
  • Blueberry
  • And more.

Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (aka ENDS, e-cigarettes, vapes)

E-cigarettes are also known as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), vaping devices, vapes, vaping pens, and e-hookah. An electricity source--usually a lithium ion battery--superheats the liquid nicotine until it turns from liquid to gas. Like combustible or lit cigarettes, the user inhales the product's emissions. Some e-cigarettes are cheap, disposable, and for one-time only use; others are much more costly, come with a battery charger, and can be refilled for repeated use with different flavored nicotine liquids. The same Big Tobacco companies that make lit cigarettes now manufacture and supply most e-cigarettes on the market today.

E-cigarettes have become a tobacco control concern because e-cigarettes contain addictive nicotine, come in flavors that appeal to youth, have been linked to cigarette use and the ushering in of a new generation of smokers. These statistics are troubling:

  • A Journal of the American Medical Association 2015 study found that more e-cigarette users get hooked on smoking lit cigarettes and cigars than non e-cigarette users.
  • In 2015, 19.3% of RI High School students surveyed reported using electronic nicotine delivery devices.
  • Between 2013-2014, e-cigarette use across the United States tripled from 4.5% to 13.4% according to CDC and FDA tracking.

E-cigarettes aren’t yet regulated. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates cigarettes and tobacco products for health and safety concerns in the United States, does not yet regulate e-cigarettes. In recent years, national studies have found some tested e-cigarettes to contain harmful ingredients (e.g. lead, formaldehyde, diacetyl) while news media have widely reported spontaneous explosions resulting in severe body injuries. The United States Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) recently banned e-cigarettes from all flights arriving and departing in the U.S.

What you should do

For Smokers

Talk to your doctor about how to stop smoking safely using only FDA-approved products that are clinically proven as safe and effective. A healthcare provider may prescribe medications to block nicotine cravings or recommend an over-the-counter Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) gum, patch, or lozenge. FDA-approved NRT are designed to gradually reduce nicotine levels and cravings for the smoker to help reduce nicotine dependence.

Telephone counseling and NRT are clinically proven to double a smoker's chances of quitting.

Smokers in Rhode Island can get telephone counseling and NRT for free. Call the Rhode Island Smoker's Helpline at:

  • English: 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669)
  • Spanish: 1-800-8-DEJALO (1-800-833-5256)

For Parents & Communities

Every effort should made to keep e-cigarettes and all tobacco products out of the hands of youth:

  • Prevent childhood poisonings. Nicotine in liquid form is highly poisonous when touched on skin or ingested. Keep all e-cigarette liquids locked away from children and pets. more
  • Include e-cigarettes in tobacco-free policies for schools, workplaces, recreation areas, parks, beaches, housing, restaurants, bars, and other indoor and outdoor public spaces. more
  • Enforce or model local tobacco retail licensing requirements. For example, some communities now ban the sale of flavored tobacco products to young people, including e-cigarettes, while some communities are considering raising the legal age to 21 to purchase tobacco products. more
  • Learn how to best protect youth in your community.
    • The Rhode Island Department of Health Tobacco Control Program provides communities, schools, and organizations with health education at no cost on CDC recommended practices and evidence-based strategies for adopting policies proven to help prevent youth from using tobacco.
    • Tobacco Free Rhode Island (TFRI) lists all communities with tobacco-free and smoke-free policies in the state. TFRI is a coordinating network that brings together the people and organizations working on tobacco control in RI, facilitates communication and sharing of information, resources, and action strategies for policy change. TFRI provides advice and technical assistance to its network partners.