JAMA Patient Information: Kids Lighting Up

According to the federal government, nearly 3,000 American children and adolescents under age 18 become regular smokers each day. Of these, a third will die early from tobacco-related diseases.

Tobacco use causes about one in every five deaths in the United States. It is the main cause of preventable death and disease in the country. Almost 50 million Americans smoke, including one in five teenagers.

A study in the November 3, 1999, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (Anda et al) reports that adults who experienced any of a number of negative experiences during childhood were more likely to begin smoking at an early age and be current smokers. The researchers believe that helping to prevent these negative childhood experiences and treating children who are exposed to them may help reduce smoking among both adolescents and adults. The negative experiences studied included verbal, physical, or sexual abuse; having a battered mother; having parents who are separated or divorced; or growing up with a household member with substance abuse problems, mental illness, or who has been incarcerated.

Tobacco is a highly addictive drug that contains thousands of dangerous chemicals. Of these, nicotine is the substance that causes smokers to become addicted to tobacco. Other substances that are especially harmful to the body include tar and carbon monoxide. Tobacco is especially dangerous for teens because their bodies are still developing and the chemicals in cigarettes may negatively affect their growth and development. Smokeless tobacco (also called chewing tobacco or snuff) and cigars are just as dangerous as cigarettes.

The Law:
It is against the law in the United States to sell tobacco products to anyone younger than 18 years. All retailers are required to ask to see identification for those who appear to be younger than 27 years.

What Parents Can Do:
Set a good example for your children. If you smoke, quit. Talk to your children about the dangers of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

For More Information:

Additional Sources: National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AMA's Encyclopedia of Medicine

Mi Young Hwang, Writer
Richard M. Glass, M.D., Editor
Jeff Molter, Director of Science News

(JAMA. 1999; 282:1692)

Published in JAMA: November 3, 1999

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of The Journal of the American Medical Association and the American Medical Association. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances; but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA and AMA suggest that you consult your physician. This page may be reproduced noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. Any other reproduction is subject to AMA approval.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics