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Smoking & Nicotine Addiction In Kids

Smoking & Nicotine Addiction In Kids

Youth smoking is as big a problem as it ever was. Parents and teachers are often at a loss as to how to deal with the fact that their children may already smoke or the chance that they may become hooked on cigarettes in the future. This page is therefore dedicated to providing as much information about the subject as is possible, and to answering potential questions on smoking among youth and children.

Please see our list of recommended nicotine or vape addiction centers across North America.

Every day 3,000 children become regular smokers as a result of nicotine addiction, and almost one-third of them prematurely lose their lives to a smoking-related disease. Tobacco use among children is a public health issue that every candidate for public office should address, as smoking smoking affects many things from your life expectancy to your ability to find affordable health insurance. The toll tobacco takes on our children has prompted many important children’s advocacy and health organizations to join the community, state and national fight against this pediatric disease, by getting out public health information to parents and children, and by making community leaders aware of this threat to community health. Help us help America’s children.

To get the facts on children and tobacco, go to the following fact sheets:

Children and Tobacco: The Facts

Tobacco Use is a Pediatric Disease

Every year, about 400,000 Americans are killed by a preventable cause: tobacco use. Tobacco-related deaths far outnumber the combined deaths related to AIDS, homicides, alcohol, illegal drugs, car accidents, fires and suicides. Tobacco is readily accessible to kids, both from vending machines and over the counter. Although state laws forbid the sale of tobacco to minors, these rules are frequently weak and unenforceable, and therefore do little to prevent sales to minors. Every day, 3,000 kids become smokers, and almost one-third of them will lose their lives to a smoking-related disease.

David Kessler, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, termed tobacco use a “PEDIATRIC DISEASE,” since most adult smokers began when they were kids. Dr. Kessler said, “The tobacco industry has argued that the decision to smoke and continue to smoke is a free choice made by an adult. But ask a smoker when he or she began to smoke. Chances are you will hear the tale of a child.”

Tobacco products contain the highly addictive drug nicotine, and nicotine addiction most often begins in childhood and adolescence. Recent data from the American Council on Science and Health and the American Medical Association estimate that more than three million youths smoke, and another one million use smokeless tobacco. A new survey by the University of Michigan found that between 1991 and 1994, regular smoking among eighth graders increased 30 percent, and among tenth graders, smoking increased 22 percent.

Although tobacco companies argue that tobacco use is an “adult choice,” most people over 21 don’t begin smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 62 percent of adult regular smokers started smoking when they were 16 years-old, 37 percent at age 14, and 90 percent by the time they were eighteen. The starting age for use of smokeless tobacco is even lower: according to an American Medical Association study, the average age children become regular users of smokeless tobacco products is 12 years. In 1992, the Surgeon General reported that “the younger an adolescent begins smoking, the greater chance he or she will become addicted [to nicotine] as an adult. . . and consequently develop a smoking-related disease later in life.” A 1992 Gallup poll found that two-thirds of the youths who smoke wanted to quit but couldn’t; seventy percent of them reported that they would choose NOT to smoke if given another chance.

More than 75 percent of under-aged high school students were not asked to show proof of age when they purchased cigarettes. (“Tobacco Use and Usual Source of Cigarettes Among High School Students — United States, 1995,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 24, 1996.)

Advertising is another factor encouraging children to smoke. According to a report done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 86 percent of child smokers use the three most heavily advertised brands, Marlboro, Camel, and Newport these brands account for only 35 percent of the overall market share. Research from the University of California, San Diego, found that even adolescents who had never smoked are affected by advertising: 40 percent of adolescents who had never smoked could name at least one cigarette brand they would prefer to buy. In an interview in the New York Times, Dr. John Pierce, lead author of the study, said, “[The findings indicate] that marketing has an effect on children before they begin to smoke. . . It is not that children see an ad and start smoking, but seeing the ads and handling the cigarette packs and the promotional gifts lessens their resistance, weakens their resolve, so that later on they will be somewhat more willing to accept a cigarette from a peer when it is offered.”

Tobacco advertising and promotion influence adolescents’ decision to begin smoking more than peer pressure or parental smoking, according to a recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. (Nicola Evans, et. al., “Influence of Tobacco Marketing and Exposure to Smokers on Adolescent Susceptibility to Smoking,” Journal of the American Cancer Institute, October 18, 1995.)

Facts on Nicotine and Nicotine Addiction in Children

Tobacco products contain nicotine, an addictive drug. In order to prevent the deadly effects of nicotine addiction, early intervention and prevention is needed. Prolonged exposure to chemicals such as those in cigarettes can lead to forms of cancer such as lung cancer or mesothelioma.

“What is most significant about teens and smoking, however, is that, from all indications, smoking is an addiction that is typically initiated during the teenage years or not at all. For the great majority of smokers, this addiction begins before they are old enough to purchase tobacco lawfully . . . If youth access can be controlled effectively, and the decision whether to smoke can be delayed until adulthood, then, over time, smoking will be greatly reduced as a major addiction in our society.”
— “No Sale: Youth, Tobacco and Responsible Retailing,” Working Group of State Attorneys General, December 1994.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the World Health Organization, the Institute of Medicine, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychiatric Association all agree that tobacco products are addictive. Numerous studies have found tobacco products to be as addictive as heroin, cocaine, and alcohol.
  • A study done by HHS found that when asked, 5 percent of high school smokers thought they wouldn’t be smoking 5 years later; yet, 7 to 9 years later, almost 75 percent of them were still smoking. (“Trends in Tobacco Use Among Youth,” CDC, March 1994)
  • Each year, nearly 20 million people try to quit smoking, but only 3 percent have long-term success. 70 percent of current smokers report themselves as being “addicted.” 84 percent of normal to heavy smokers aged 12 to 17 reported that they “needed” or were “dependent” on cigarettes.2
  • A 1992 survey found that close to two-thirds of adolescents who smoke want to quit, and 70 percent reported that they would not start smoking again if given another chance. (“Teenage Attitudes and Bahavior Concerning Tobacco,” Gallup International Institute, 1992.)

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1994; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1988; Institute of Medicine, Growing Up Tobacco Free, 1994; Journal of the American Medical Association, July 19, 1995.

2. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1994.

Each year more than 400,000 Americans die from a tobacco-related illness, the number one preventable cause of death in the United States. More lives are lost to tobacco than those caused by fires, alcohol, suicides, car accidents, AIDS, illegal drugs, and homicides, combined. Most of these deaths occur in adulthood, but the damage begins at the onset of smoking which in about 90 percent of the cases, begins at or before the age of 18.

“. . . [F]rom a public-health standpoint, keeping kids away from cigarettes is the single most effective way to fight the nation’s leading preventable cause of death.”
— “Hooked on Tobacco: The Teen Epidemic,” Consumer Reports, March 1995.

  • Close to 1,000 of the 3,000 youths who begin smoking every day will prematurely die of a tobacco-related disease.
  • An infant’s risk of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) increases 5 times if he or she is exposed to secondhand smoke in the room. Secondhand smoke also increases the risk of lung cancer and asthma.
  • Smoking in childhood or adolescence increases the risk of developing cardiac disease — the number one cause of death in the United States.
  • Young adult smokers are 1.43 times more likely to have a stroke than their nonsmoking peers.
  • Smoking is linked to not only lung cancer, but also other respiratory problems like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
  • Children and adolescents who use tobacco have smaller lungs than their peers, and therefore tend to be less physically fit than their peers.
  • Adolescents’ use of smokeless tobacco increases their risk of oral cancer and nicotine addiction.

While cigarette companies claim that they do not intend to market to children, their intentions are irrelevant if advertising affects what children know. RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company is as effective as the Disney Channel in reaching 6-year-old children. Given this fact and the known health consequences of smoking, cigarette advertising may be an important health risk for children.”
— Fischer, et al., Journal of the American Medical Association, December 11, 1991. March 1995.

Teenagers respond to tobacco advertising
The Surgeon General has concluded that tobacco advertising and promotion do appear to stimulate cigarette consumption. About 85 percent of adolescent smokers prefer either Marlboro, Newport, or Camel, the three most heavily advertised cigarette brands.

After the Joe Camel campaign was introduced, Camel’s market share among underage smokers jumped from 0.5 percent to 32.8 percent in three years.

Tobacco advertisements are appealing to kids
Tobacco advertising emphasizes themes (sexual attraction, social acceptance, thinness, and independence) which appeal to youth.

Six year olds are familiar enough with cigarette advertising that they match the ‘Old Joe’ Camel character with cigarettes as often as they pair Mickey Mouse with the Disney Channel. When asked what cigarette brand was most frequently advertised, only 13.7 percent of adults named Camel, compared to 28.5 percent of adolescents (12 to 17 years old). Recognition of the Joe Camel campaign was highest among 12 and 13 year olds.

Children are frequently exposed to tobacco advertising
Cigarette advertising expenditures for promotional items such as hats, t-shirts, and key chains quadrupled, from $184 million to $756 million, between 1991 and 1993. These items bear no health warnings and are easily obtained by kids.

Thirty percent of kids (12 to 17 years old), both smokers and nonsmokers, own at least one tobacco promotional item.

While overall cigarette advertising in magazines has declined sharply, the number of ads per issue in magazines with substantial youth readership has remained constant.

The public supports regulation designed to prevent teenage tobacco use
According to a recent survey, adults overwhelmingly support measures which would prohibit tobacco advertising which appeals to children. Seventy-one percent favor extending regulation of nicotine products, such as patches and gum, to cigarettes; 73 percent believe tobacco ads without pictures and cartoons would make smoking less appealing to kids; 74 percent think cigarette pack coupons for promotional items which appeal to youth should be eliminated.10 Sixty-one percent of adults believe that the tobacco industry encourages teenagers to smoke.11

According to a March 1996 poll, 88 percent of Americans think their member of Congress should support the Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to stop the sale and marketing of cigarettes to children; 47 percent said they would be less likely to vote for a local member of Congress who was accepting campaign contributions from the tobacco companies; and 81 percent of Americans do not trust tobacco companies to promote voluntary restrictions on the sale and marketing of their products to children. (Global Strategy Group, for the American Heart Association, March 19, 1996.)

Questions to Ask Candidates for Public Office About Children and Tobacco

The key to curtailing tobacco use by children begins in YOUR community, and that means increasing voter awareness of this important issue. It is necessary to determine early in an election year how candidates for public office view tobacco issues.

Given all that we know, the scientific case for protecting children from tobacco is indisputable. The moral imperative to act is imperative . . . . This is not a Democratic or a Republican issue. It is a bipartisan, pro-child, pro-family, pro-health issue.”
— A statement made by President Jimmy Carter in USA Today, August 3, 1995.

Here are some questions children’s advocates may want to ask political candidates regarding tobacco:

  • Would you pledge not to accept political contributions from the tobacco industry?
  • Would you support smokefree public places? If so, how will you protect children from secondhand smoke exposure in public places?
  • Do you support an increase in cigarette taxes?
  • Do you believe tobacco advertising and promotion messages reach children? If so, what steps do you think should be taken to protect our youth from tobacco advertising?
  • Do you believe that local government should have the authority to regulate sales to minors? Smokefree places? Tobacco advertising?
  • What steps would you take to increase educational programs designed to teach the health hazards of tobacco, as well as those designed to prevent children from smoking?
  • What sort of actions should be taken when tobacco products are illegally sold to minors? What type of sanctions do you support? Loss of retail license? Both? Other?

Things You Can Do to Help Support the Movement to Get Tobacco Out of Our Children’s Hands

You don’t have to be a lawmaker or a leader of a large organization to get things started in your community. Here are a few suggestions on how you can get started in your area:
  • Support an existing tobacco control group through giving financial contributions or volunteering your time — or both; remember, they’re fighting an opponent — the tobacco industry — that has nearly unlimited resources.
  • Download the fact sheets you see here, reproduce them, and distribute them to members of your organization, put them in a newsletter, or include them in a mailing to members and affiliates.
  • Encourage your own group to join efforts with other, larger organizations. A list of major organizations is included on this site.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, emphasizing the seriousness of the tobacco problem among youth.
  • Encourage children and teens in your area to join the fight. Get them to declare their local public areas, schools, playgrounds, and playing fields and courts “smoke free.” One group of teenagers in Massachusetts convinced a local mall to become smokefree. A group of 7th grade girls in the same state managed to get vending machines banned in the public places in their town of Gloucester.1

Resources: Where You Can Get More Information


Here is a list of some other resources for information on the subject of kids and tobacco.


Action Alerts
Monthly updates on key issues concerning tobacco control, with tips and resources for effective advocacy. By the Advocacy Institute. $50 per year. Phone: 202/659-8475, or write: 1707 L Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Action Kit
An informational packet explaining the issue of kids and tobacco. An important tool for the tobacco control advocate. From the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Free. Phone: 800/284-KIDS.

Cigarettes, Cigarettes. The Dirty Rotten Truth About Tobacco
A colorfully illustrated book written for kids about the dangers of smoking and tobacco use. 1993. By Pete Traynor for Sights Productions. Phone: 410/795-4582 or write: 15130 Black Ankle Road, Mt. Airy, MD 21771.

Death or Taxes: A Health Advocate’s Guide to Increasing Tobacco Taxes
Published by the Advocacy Institute. 1990. Free. Call: (202) 659-8475, or write: 1707 L Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Every Kid Counts
A book written for the child’s advocate, concerning some of the most pressing issues facing children today. Includes a section on how to push for effective tobacco control legislation. 1993. By Margaret Brodkin for Harper-Collins Publishers. Phone: 800/242 7737, Fax: 800/822-4090, or write: 1000 Keystone Industrial Park, Scranton, PA 18512 4621.

Growing Up Tobacco Free
A handbook explaining the issues surrounding tobacco use and addiction in children. Also recommends tobacco policy positions. 1994. By the Institute of Medicine for National Academy Press. Phone: 800/624-6242 or (in DC) 202/334-3313 or write: 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Box 285, Washington, D.C. 20055.

A colorful magazine for the young adult. Issues such as drinking and tobacco use are discussed. Provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Phone: 800/CDC-1311 or write: Office on Smoking and Health, Mail Stop K-50, Atlanta, GA 30333.

Kids Say Don’t Smoke
This book focuses on encouraging kids not to begin smoking. 1990. By Andrew Tobias for Workman Publishing. Phone: 800/722-7202 or write: 708 Broadway, 6th floor, New York, NY 10003.

Media Advocacy and Public Health: Power for Prevention
A handbook for the activist who wants to use the media for social change. 1994. Wallack, et. al., for Sage Publications. Available from the Advocacy Institute. $17. Phone: 202/659-8475, or write: 1707 L Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20036.

SGR 4 Kids
A supplemental guide to the 1994 Surgeon General’s Report, for 5th and 6th graders. Provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Phone: 800/CDC-1311 or write: Office on Smoking and Health, Mail Stop K-50, Atlanta, GA 30333.


Ad Libbing It
A humorous 17-minute video designed for 6th-8th graders. It promotes critical thinking skills by examining alcohol and cigarette advertising. Produced by Dr. Robert Jaffe of Doctors Ought to Care. Phone: 206/287-2DOC or write to: Comprehensive Health Education Foundation c/o Washington DOC, PO Box 20065 Seattle, Washington 98102.

The Lesko Brothers’ Web Page
Set up by the Lesko brothers, ages 6 and 9, the page explains the proposed FDA regulations and the problem of easy access to tobacco. To access the page: html

Jam Video
A supplement to the magazine of the same name. Provided by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Phone: 800/CDC-1311 or write: Office on Smoking and Health, Mail Stop K-50, Atlanta, GA 30333.

Other Children’s Advocacy and Health Organizations

For more information on children and tobacco, or if you want information on the tobacco control movement, here is a list of organizations that would be happy to provide you with information.

Advocacy Institute
A training institute that helps other groups advance their own goals through sharpened political skills. The Advocacy Institute administers SCARCNet, a private computer network for tobacco control advocates.

Advocacy Insitute
1701 L Street, NW, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: 202/659-8475; Fax: 202/659-8484

National Center for Tobacco Free Kids
The country’s largest nongovernment initiative ever launched to protect children from tobacco addition. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is the action arm of the Center. The Campaign serves as a resource and partner for over 100 health, civic and other groups dedicated to reducing tobacco use among America’s children.

Judith Glanz
1707 L Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: 202/296-5469; Fax: 202/296 5427

Coalition on Smoking or Health
A coalition comprised of the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and American Heart Association working together for tobacco control. The coalition works to educate policy makers and the public about tobacco control and also tracks bills at the federal and state level that pertain to tobacco.

Joy Epstein (federal issues)
1150 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 820
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: 202/452-1184; Fax: 202/452-1417

Americans for Nonsmokers Rights
A national membership group working for clean indoor air and other tobacco control issues.

Patricia Brazil (kids and tobacco) or Robin Hobart (clean indoor air)
2530 San Pablo Avenue, Suite J
Berkeley, CA 94702
Phone: 510/841-3032; Fax: 510/841-7702
Email:; URL:

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
A tobacco control group that uses lawsuits to advance its policy agenda.

John Banzhaf, Executive Director
2013 H Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20006
Phone: 202/659-4310

Stop Teenage Addiction to Tobacco (STAT)
STATs’ mission is “to stop childhood and teenage addiction to tobacco by using a combination of activism, advocacy, education, and networking to eliminate the availability of tobacco to minors, regulate tobacco advertising and promotion, and make the public aware of the unethical and deceitful marketing practices of the tobacco industry.”

Judy Sopenski, Executive Director
511 East Columbus Avenue
Springfield, Massachusetts 01105
Phone: 413/732-7828; Fax: 413/732-4219.

Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLP)
An organization that encourages and supports litigation against the tobacco industry.

Mark Gottlieb
c/o Tobacco Control Resource Center
102 The Fenway, Room 118
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Phone: 800/387-7848; Fax: 617/373-3672
Email:; URL:

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