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Why Kids Start Smoking

The overwhelming majority of adult smokers began smoking before age 18, and many were addicted before they even finished high school. So, why do kids pick up that cigarette in the first place?

  • Their parents are smokers.
  • Peer pressure—their friends encourage them to try cigarettes and to keep smoking.
  • They see smoking as a way of rebelling and showing independence.
  • They think that everyone else is smoking and that they should, too.
  • The tobacco industry has used clever marketing tactics to specifically target teenagers.
  • The price is right—in places where low tobacco taxes have kept the price down, it is easier for kids to afford cigarettes.
  • Most teenagers simply like to try new things, but they aren’t mature enough to think of the long-term consequences.
  • Nicotine is a "feel-good" drug without intoxication.

The majority of children in elementary school and the early part of middle school have never tried a cigarette. Most will tell you that they never will smoke cigarettes and they mean what they’re saying. But as they get older, some will become more open to the idea of smoking.

Tobacco companies shape their marketing campaigns to portray smokers as cool, sexy, independent, fun, attractive and living on the edge—images that appeal to many teens. As a result, they try smoking and don’t understand that they can become addicted after smoking as few as 100 cigarettes (five packs). Only 5 percent of high-school-age smokers believe they'll still be smoking five years after graduation, but they don't understand how difficult quitting can be. Research shows that after eight years, 75 percent of those smokers still will use some form of tobacco.

Know a teen who is ready to quit smoking? The American Lung Association's Not-On-Tobacco (N-O-T) program is designed for 14 to 19-year-old smokers who want to quit. Contact your local American Lung Association office to find out if N-O-T is available in your area.

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Tips for Parents

See how you can talk to your kids about smoking and call 1-800-LUNGUSA to talk to a specialist at our Lung HelpLine.

    Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed February 25, 2019.

    Page Last Updated: March 4, 2019

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