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Health Consequences - Smoking and Adolescence

Smoking and adolescence

There are nearly 4 million American adolescents who have used a tobacco product in the past month. Nearly 90 percent of smokers start smoking by age 18, and of smokers under 18 years of age, more than 6 million will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease.

Tobacco use in teens is not only the result of psychosocial influences, such as peer pressure; recent research suggests that there may be biological reasons for this period of increased vulnerability. Indeed, even intermittent smoking can result in the development of tobacco addiction in some teens. Animal models of teen smoking provide additional evidence of an increased vulnerability. Adolescent rats are more susceptible to the reinforcing effects of nicotine than adult rats, and take more nicotine when it is available than do adult animals.

Adolescents may also be more sensitive to the reinforcing effects of nicotine in combination with other chemicals found in cigarettes, thus increasing susceptibility to tobacco addiction. As mentioned above, acetaldehyde increases nicotine’s addictive properties in adolescent, but not adult, animals. That is, adolescent animals performing a task to receive nicotine showed greater response rates to nicotine when combined with acetaldehyde. An increasing number of organizations actively support research aimed at increasing our understanding of why and how adolescents become addicted, and to develop prevention, intervention, and treatment strategies to meet the specific needs of teens.