Youth smoking has long enjoyed a high profile in the arena of public health both worldwide and in the UK, where there has been an associated decrease in youth smoking prevalence since 1982, with rates reduced from 25% in 1982 to 5% in 2018.However, the issue remains serious, now coloured somewhat by the increased popularity of electronic cigarettes in recent years To address youth smoking, it is important to fully understand the broader context.
Statistics on Youth Smoking
Prior studies indicate that over 200,000 children begin smoking each year in the UK 2 . Indeed, the majority of adult smokers indicate that they started smoking prior to age 18. This data supports prior work on the strong connection between youth smoking and adult nicotine use. Other data has indicated that children may become addicted as soon as four weeks after starting to smoke, putting them at an increased risk for adult usage and continued smoking addiction 2 . On the bright side, the proportion of children in the UK who have smoked has constantly declined since 1982 2 . Nevertheless, efforts to further reduce this proportion remain valuable. Data indicates that in 2018, 55% of students surveyed were exposed to second-hand smoke either in their own home or in somebody else’s. This is an alarming trend, as second-hand smoke has been shown to contains over 7,000 chemicals, with over 70 carcinogens 3 . Second-hand smoke has been linked to heart disease, lung cancer, strokes,
and a variety of other health effects 3 .
Influences on Youth Smoking
Research suggests there are three main influences which encourage youth in the UK to start smoking. The first is individual influences, based on the child’s personal beliefs and opinions, centred around smoking. The second is based on societal pressures, including peer pressure and media representation of smoking. The third is based on environmental factors, which includes the household environment the child grew up in, and whether a parent smokes. Other risk factors associated with youth smoking include the availability and ease of obtaining cigarettes, depictions of smoking in the media, truancy from school, and attitudes concerning acceptability of smoking 2 .
The influence of E-Cigarettes on Youth Smoking
There has been an increase in e-cigarette usage in the UK, and worldwide 4 . The UK has implemented many regulations attempting to limit youth usage of E-Cigarettes. The majority of regular youth smokers use E-cigarettes 4 . The effects of E-cigarettes on lung tissue are still being investigated, however current research indicates there is a potential for damage. E- cigarettes contain Diacetyl, Formaldehyde, and Acrolein- all toxic chemicals 5 . Diacetyl has been associated with “popcorn lung”, a rare type of lung damage that causes coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath 5 . Research during the pandemic has indicated that adults and children who have used E-cigarettes are at increased risk for Covid-19 complications.
Although some studies have indicated youth usage of E-cigarettes develops into regular use of other nicotine products, other studies have indicated that there is no correlation between youth E-smoking and other forms of smoking 4 . E-cigarettes are still a fairly new product, and likely the connection between E-cigarettes and other forms of smoking will continue to be explored in the future. Regardless, E-cigarette usage is on the rise in youth, and has been linked to damaging health effects.
Strategies to Prevent Youth Smoking
Important strategies to prevent youth smoking include raising the price of cigarettes to deter children from buying them. Although research has indicated that education on smoking is not enough to fully prevent youth smoking, it is an important component 2 . Education on youth smoking and the damaging health effects does not need to occur solely in the classroom. Children are exposed to large volumes of media each day, including on social media. Educational posts by non-profits, adults, and even peers can contribute to educating youth on the dangers of smoking, and help to reduce youth smoking.
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