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Nicotine and Teens

What is nicotine? Most know nicotine comes from tobacco products. But are you aware of the statistics on nicotine and teens? What about the effects of nicotine on teen health? What can parents do to prevent or stop nicotine use? Keep reading to find out...


Nicotine is a drug that reaches a teen's brain when the teen smokes, chews, or sniffs products containing nicotine. Nicotine is very harmful to teens, but its addictive nature can make it hard to give up.

About 15 percent of teens use nicotine products, with cigarettes being the most common form used by teens. Still, teens can avoid nicotine, and troubled teens who smoke can quit.

Nicotine can be found in cigarettes (smokes, cigs, or butts), smokeless tobacco (chew, dip, spit tobacco, or snuff), or bidis, an alternative cigarette from India that is popular with many troubled teens, who may think that it is less harmful that cigarette smoking; bidis actually contain more nicotine than cigarettes. Nicotine is extremely poisonous and addictive, and smoking, chewing, or sniffing nicotine products introduces this poison to a teen's body.

Nicotine can reach the brain in eight seconds, where it begins to change the way the brain works. It increases the heart and breathing rate, raises blood sugar levels, and can create a feeling of alertness and pleasure. Because nicotine changes the chemistry in troubled teens' brains, their brains stop producing normal chemicals that help teens feel happy. When a teen stops using nicotine, he or she may feel depressed or irritable and wants more nicotine. This leads to nicotine addition, which exposes teens to further danger from the products they are using, usually tobacco. Nicotine is an expensive habit, wasting money that could otherwise be spent on CDs, games, friends, dates, movies, or clothes.

Half a million Americans die every year from causes related to nicotine addiction, and one in every six deaths in America is a result of smoking tobacco. Teens may think that nicotine products can't hurt them, but Sean Marcee, a star high school athlete who used spit tobacco, died of oral cancer, caused by tobacco, when he was 19 years old. There is no such thing as safe tobacco or a safe cigarette.

Tobacco use has serious effects on a teen's health and well being, including: 

  • A decreased sense of smell and taste 
  • Reduced stamina 
  • Premature aging of skin 
  • Discolored teeth and skin 
  • Smelling bad and bad breath 
  • Agoraphobia (fear of going outside) 
  • Panic attacks, anxiety, and depression 
  • Shortness of breath and asthma 
  • Increased vulnerability to illness 
  • Decreased athletic performance 
  • Oral cancer, which requires surgery to be treated and can deform the face 
  • When chewed: cracked lips, sores, white spots, and bleeding in the mouth 
  • When smoked, tobacco introduces other chemicals into the body, including tar and carbon monoxide, which can cause cancer, emphysema, bronchial diseases, and heart problems. 
  • Teens who use nicotine are more likely to use other drugs and alcohol, which can have further negative health effects.

Some things that parents can do to prevent or stop teen nicotine use are: 

  • Talking to teens early about not using nicotine, and setting a good example by not smoking or by quitting 
  • Encouraging teens to get involved in sports or other extracurricular activities 
  • Talking to a doctor about methods to help teens overcome nicotine addiction 
  • Finding someone for them to quit with; it's easier to quit if you do it with someone else. 
  • Finding out if a teen's friends use nicotine products and talking about ways to say no 
  • Supporting businesses that don't sell nicotine to teens, or that are tobacco free 
  • Being sure that teen activities with friends or school are nicotine free

Nicotine and Teens Sources:

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA for Teens, Facts on Drugs: Nicotine [online]
  • Center for Disease Control, Tobacco Information and Prevention Source, Youth and Tobacco [online]

Related Article: Teen Smoking >>

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