Teens Discuss Smoking
When it comes to smoking, statistics are not in teens' favor.
An estimated four million children, ages 12 to 17 are smokers, reports the American Heart Association. More than 6,000 teens try a cigarette each day -- and half of these keep the habit.
Since most children are prone to pick up habits like smoking during adolescence, it's the time to teach them about the health risks associated with it. New legislation targeted at tobacco advertisements is doing just that.
Fortunately, most teens are listening.
While about 6,000 teens try a cigarette every day, many more have decided never to try one at all. "I think that smoking is disgusting and a waste of money," says Mallory, a 17-year-old from Leaf River, Ill. "I'd rather die of natural causes than something I caused myself. If you smoke, you obviously are going to die from something that you brought on yourself. If you don't smoke, your chance of dying from natural causes is so much greater. What's to think about?"
Message From Home
The strongest message teens say they hear about smoking comes from their parents – both the smokers and non-smokers.
"My parents both smoke, but I know that they both want to quit very badly," says Alec, 13, from Chester, Va. "They tell my younger brothers and me how hard it is to quit and how bad smoking has affected their health. They don't preach about it, but they do answer questions when we have them and use themselves as examples, which is cool. They aren't afraid to let me know that they don't want me to make the same mistake they did – and I won't."
Mallory's parents sent a clear message about smoking and health. "They have told me before that I shouldn't [smoke]," she says. "I run cross-country and track and I know that smoking will disable me from doing well in these sports. So I use common sense and I don't smoke."
Anti-smoking advertisements have bombarded teens with vivid images: body bags around a tobacco company's home office and ticker boards that offer smoking statistics rather then stock prices. And teens have taken notice.
"I love the 'TRUTH' ads," says Alaina, a 13-year-old from Batavia, Ill. "I think they're awesome and really creative. If [teens] haven't noticed them yet, they probably will soon, because they are very popular where I live. I think that if they haven't started having the effect they are meant to have, they will in the near future."
Yet it's attitude, not ads, that will change teenagers' minds, Alaina says. "It all depends on what people take from the ads and whether the choice they choose is to change or not. Some will, some won't. No ad can change that."
Teens who have made the decision not to smoke state that even when approached they will stick to their "smoking" guns. "If someone offered me a cigarette or asked me to try one, I'd tell them that I don't smoke, and never will," says Holly, 16, from Springdale, Ark. "Then, I would simply walk off, because I'm proud that I don't smoke and I never will. Anyone who thinks I'm a 'goody-goody' can think that. All I have to say to that is 'Thanks, I'm proud to be one.'"
Gone is smoking's image of teenage "cool" and popularity.
"The last thing I think about when I see someone smoking is 'that's cool,'" Alaina says. "I think smoking is stupid. It's awful for your health, extremely unattractive and causes more bad than good. It's like signing your life away to death 40 years early."
She feels most of her peers share her opinion, having better sense than to start such a harmful habit. "Kids are smarter then most parents think," she says. "We know."