Should I Start Smoking? Why Not?


(The Vancouver Sun, January 2003)

Dear Teresa: Help!! I’m thirteen years old and wanted to ask you about smoking. Two of my friends just started smoking and want me to start. I don’t really want to but they won’t leave me alone. I know it is bad for me but everyone seems to be doing it. What should I do?

Signed, A. R., West Vancouver

Dear A.R.: You are smart to be giving this thought and getting advice. I bet if you asked around many teens will tell you that they have been pressured about smoking as well. I can remember being pressured myself at your age to take a cigarette at a party. It wasn’t easy saying no. Keep sticking up for yourself. Kids may try and make you feel like you’re a loser if you don’t smoke. Don’t buy into it. It’s not true. It takes more courage and self-confidence to resist peer pressure than to buckle and conform. The best way to make a decision is to be well informed. So… here are some facts to inform you about smoking. Bet after you read this, it will be easier to continue to stand your ground.

Who Smokes:
Every day in BC, 20 kids start smoking. If you ask them if they plan to still be smoking by the time they graduate only 5% say yes but 75% will. If they don’t quit, over half of them will eventually die from the habit. Thanks to smoking, 45,000 people will die this year – making smoking the leading cause of preventable death. They will die of lung disease, heart disease, cancer, strokes and other smoking related illnesses. Though over decades, smoking has been on the decrease, today nearly 1 in 4 teenage girls and 1 in 5 teenage boys smoke. 75% of them are daily smokers who smoke an average of 13 cigarettes a day. May sound like just a bunch of numbers until you figure it means if your two friends continue smoking, one may die of the habit.

What’s in a cigarette?
I’ve heard teens say that tobacco is a natural substance so it’s not too bad. Thankfully, numerous education programs about smoking are effectively combating this myth. There are over 4000 chemicals in a cigarette. Some are found naturally others are purposefully added. Here is a list of some of the substances found in cigarettes and other products:

  • Nicotine – also found in bug spray. (Nicotine is most responsible for making cigarettes so addictive. When a cigarette is smoked,
  • nicotine hits the brain within 6 seconds and is so addictive it has been compared to heroin.)
  • Cyanide – also found in rat poisoning.
  • Formaldehyde – also found in that stinky liquid they preserve dead frogs in.
  • Benzene – also found in gasoline.
  • Cadmium – also found in batteries.
  • Acetone – also found in nail polish remover.

Just a few of course but I bet you get the idea. Kind of disgusting don’t you think!

Why Kids Smoke:
Advertisers aren’t dumb but they think you are. If all the tobacco ads targeted their marketing to 90-year-old men, they wouldn’t be selling too many cigarettes. That is why ads target teens. They know you have many years to smoke and consequently they will make more money off of you. Next time you see a cigarette ad, check out what message they are trying to send. They are trying to tell boys they will be more masculine, powerful, and self –confident if they smoke. What about the girls? See if you can notice how they try to say if you smoke you will be more mysterious, glamorous, and thin (it’s no accident they call cigarettes names like “slims”). They are preying on stereotypes and hoping you will fall for it. They don’t realize you are smart enough to see through the ads. Some teens may think smoking is a rebellion. Smoking is an addiction and addictions control you. Ever seen someone having a nicotine fit? As far as looking cool, consider smelly clothes and hair, and yellowed fingers and teeth – not too cool. In fact in a recent Canadian study, 67% teens said smoking was a turn off and they disliked being around it.

I hope the information helps. If your friends pressure you again, try some of these comments: “No thanks, I’d rather spend my money on movies or CD’s.” “No thanks, I don’t want to smell like an ash tray.” “Why do you care so much if I smoke or not?” “If you were really friends you wouldn’t pressure me about something I don’t want.” “Smoking would just slow me down in sports” Or “Is this what you do to look cool?” Maybe you could even cut this column out and give it to them to read.