Clean Air and Lungs: The Dangers of Teen Smoking

Authored by Dr. Jeff Bennert

Smoking is a habit that, once started, can be difficult to stop. This is true whether the smoker is in their teenage years or adulthood. One of the reasons for this is that smoking is addictive both psychologically and physically. A person becomes dependent on nicotine, which is the primary addictive substance that is found in tobacco. The nicotine causes the addiction due to triggering temporary “feel good” or pleasant sensations. The body and the mind quickly become addicted to this feeling and, as a result, the smoker is unable to stop, even if they know how dangerous it is. Because the sensation is quick to wear off, the smoker craves another cigarette or withdrawal symptoms set in. Smoking is commonly a habit that people use to deal with stress, depression, or unwanted feelings. It can also be used as a way of socializing or relating to other people in their lives. Addiction is just one of the reasons why people, including teens, should not begin smoking in the first place. Smoking is a habit that can pollute the air in one’s bedroom, their home, and even their car. Although an air purifier can be used to reduce some of the smoke that is released into the air, and an air ionizer may help neutralize odors, there are greater problems that smoking creates. These problems are dangerous to the health of the smoker and the people who are subject to second-hand smoke.

Toxic Chemicals and How They Affect the Body

When people smoke, they are subjecting themselves and the people around them to a host of chemicals. Tobacco smoke has in excess of 7,000 different chemicals. Of these chemicals, as many as 250 of them are harmful and can cause serious health problems such as cancer. In fact, roughly 69 of these chemicals are known to be cancer-causing. Examples of chemicals found in tobacco smoke include toxic metals such as arsenic, which is also found in rat poisoning and pesticides; cadmium, which is used in batteries and can be found in battery acid; and chromium, which is used in making steel and lead. Examples of poisonous gases found in tobacco smoke include carbon monoxide, which is commonly found in the exhaust from cars; toulene, is used in paint thinners; butane, which is an ingredient in lighter fluid; hydrogen cyanide, which can be found in some chemical weapons; and ammonia. Formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, and benzene are also examples of some of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke that are cancer-causing. Formaldehyde is the chemical used for embalming the dead. Benzene is a chemical that can be found in gasoline for vehicles. Ethylene oxide can result in headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and lung cancer

Short-Term Health Effects

Tobacco begins to affect a smoker in various ways, even with short-term use. Short-term tobacco use results in addiction, making it hard for the individual to stop and increasing the risk of developing long-term health problems. Additional problems that are related to breathing include bronchitis, diminished lung capacity, or damage to the respiratory system. Smoking will even affect one’s appearance by causing problems such as bad breath, staining of the teeth, and foul-smelling clothing and hair. Because tobacco smoke is inhaled, clean air devices, such as an air purifier, cannot prevent these health problems from occurring. Non-medical affects of smoking, such as foul-smelling clothing and hair, may be reduced somewhat by an air ionizer, which neutralizes odors.

Long-Term Health Effects

People who smoke over a long period of time find themselves facing many serious health risks and possibly even death. Cancer of the lungs is the most often-discussed long-term side effect of smoking, but it is not the only problem that smokers face. Cervical and respiratory cancer are also a problem, as are cancer of the kidney, bladder, larynx, mouth, and throat. Problems that affect the heart include narrowing of the arteries, heart attack, high blood pressure, blocked blood vessels, and a weakened immune system. People who smoke for long periods may also have reduced blood flow to the brain, reproductive problems that can cause stillbirth, premature births, miscarriage in women, and impotence in men. One’s appearance may also suffer, with the possible occurrence of premature and deep wrinkling of the skin and tooth loss.

Additional Resources

  • Harms of Smoking and Health Benefits of Quitting: Visitors to this page on the National Cancer Institute site can read about the chemicals that are in tobacco smoke and the health problems that are caused by them. Readers also learn how smoking effects non-smokers and how it is immediately beneficial to stop smoking.
  • Tobacco – Smoking: Open this page to the TeensHealth website and read about smoking tobacco. The article includes information about difficulty stopping, how it affects health, and hookahs and e-cigarettes.
  • Tobacco: Open this link to the tobacco page on the Center for Substance Abuse Research website and learn in-depth information about tobacco and smoking. Information includes the methods of smoking and the short- and the long-term effects of it.
  • Drugs and Smoking – Tobacco: Find out what happens when cigarette smoke is inhaled by clicking on this link. People who read the tobacco section of this article are given information about the short-term and long-term effects of smoking and why it is important to quit.
  • Effects of Cigarette Smoking on Your Body (PDF): The effects of smoking are illustrated on this PDF patient handout. On this handout, parts of the body are marked and notations on how cigarette smoke damages the area are given.
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs – Smoking Tobacco: This is a campus health education page for the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis that focuses on smoking tobacco. The page lists consequences to one’s wallet, image, and health.
  • Adolescent Smoking (PDF): Information about adolescents and smoking are discussed in this PDF file. The document includes information on why adolescents smoke, the effects of smoking, and how smoking is a gateway drug.
  • Smoking: Click on this link to read and review an in-depth report on smoking. Readers are given statistics about smoking in the overview, followed by research information. Addiction, smoking as a youth, health effects, and more are also covered in the report.
  • The Hidden Dangers of Tobacco Use: People interested in learning how secondhand smoke affects others will want to click this link. Readers of this article are given statistics regarding the number of people who develop cancer because of secondhand smoke and information is also provided on how quitting reduces the risk.
  • Chemicals in Tobacco Smoke: This is a link to the Center for Disease Control website, where readers can look over an infographic on the chemicals in cigarettes and the harm that they cause. The page also lists some of the major chemicals beneath the infographic.
  • What’s in a Cigarette?: The American Lung Association is a source of information regarding lung health and clean air. By clicking on this link readers open a page on the site that lists a number of chemicals that are found in cigarettes, as well as other uses for them.
  • Smoking and Cancer: Learn about cancer and how it is associated with smoking. The types of cancers that are commonly caused by this dangerous habit are included in the article, along with a poster that highlights areas that are affected.
  • Is it True That Smoking Causes Wrinkles?: This question is answered on the Quit Smoking section of the Mayo Clinic website. The answer is under the expert answer section and is provided by a MD.
  • Smoking and Your Lungs: Review this patient education material sheet on smoking and the lungs by opening this link. The information teaches readers what cigarettes do and how they cause changes to the lungs and airways.
  • Drug Guide – Tobacco: Teens and parents can learn about tobacco from this drug guide from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. The information on this page teaches readers about street names, what it looks like, how it is used, long and short-term health effects, and whether there is a Federal classification.