Given all that we know about the effect of smoking on health, it seems incongruous that in the United States more than 1 in 5 people between 18 and 35 are smokers. Unfortunately, most of them start smoking in their early teens when their brain development has not matured to the point of providing sound judgment. Misperceptions about the dangers of tobacco help to explain the persistence of smoking among young people but most simply under estimate their potential to get hooked.
While everyone knows smoking causes health problems, young people will often underestimate the real risks from smoking. For example, they are likely to think, incorrectly, that other health risks such as gun violence or illegal drug use cause as much or more death and illness than smoking. Or they may not perceive themselves as personally susceptible to the harms caused by smoking.
Another reason that many young people continue to smoke is that adolescents become hooked much earlier than we used to think. Some young people have greater responses of pleasure to cigarette smoking and develop craving and withdrawal symptoms in a matter of weeks or months after they begin smoking.
Since the mid- 1990’s we have made progress in decreasing the number of young people who start smoking, but over the past few years that progress has stalled. Public health measures such as increasing the price of cigarettes, stopping exposure to secondhand smoke, and providing accurate messages about the health effects of smoking do work to reduce youth smoking. We should double our efforts to protect our children from this deadly addictive scourge.