News: Opinion: Stress A Likely Cause of Increase in Teen Smoking

Photo Credit: Matt Hosenfeld

A teenager smoking a cigarette.

While smoking cigarettes is now commonly discouraged, it hasn’t always been that way. When our parents and grandparents were teenagers, smoking was common. It was encouraged, glamourized on TV and in movies. It was considered sexy, even “cool”. Now, part of a generation unfamiliar with smoking may be using it as a relaxer.

In recent years, there has been a major push to decrease the amount of smokers in the U.S. Cigarette companies have been banned from advertising in public places. Anti-smoking signs have instead replaced these advertisements, warning against the potential and inevitable dangers that outweigh the “cool-factor”: dying younger, yellowed teeth, various kinds of cancer.

There has been a decrease in the amount of teens who smoke, but a new study revealed that teen smoking is rising again.

The New York Times study reported that about 1 in 4 high school seniors smoke cigarettes. Most people will find this statistic to be rather surprising; to be fair, the sight of teenagers wandering publicly with cigarettes in hand and a cloud of smoke by their faces is rather outlandish. However, in context, that number seems swallowable.

Many popular shows, for example Skins, glorify drug use and smoking; teens admire and relate to many of these characters. Some even aspire to be like them, because they appear cool and interesting. Programs such as this comfort teens that there is a community to become a part of when engaging in these activities. Many actually believe that the sense of community that goes along with smoking is why several teens turn to it.

Another equally as prevalent reason teens choose to light up is to reduce stress. Recent evidence suggests a correlation between an increasing amount of stress and smoking. Teens of our generation are put under much more daily stress than the generation before us. Between completing homework, participating in sports, arguing at home, looking for a job, learning to drive, applying to colleges, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, being a teenager is increasingly stressful in today’s demanding world.With all the stress that teens are under, all they want to do is find a release.

A 17-year old source, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that she “smoke[s] as stress relief.” She first “found it appealing because [she] wondered [how it could be] so horrible. Then after trying, mentally [she] was able to relax from some of the stresses [she] felt from time to time.”

She admits that the stress relief was not the only reason for smoking cigarettes: “It could also be revolved around image; a common trait others may find appealing is the fact someone is [considered] a ‘rebel’ and doesn’t care about anything.” The source says that while she doesn’t like to admit it, “smoking…is an epitome of not caring for yourself in our modern times.”

Smoking gives an instant of that much yearned-after relief from day to day struggles. In theory, this would eliminate a large amount of stress, but only for a short time.

Smoking has been proven to cause and aggravate several medical conditions such as respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, several types of cancer, and even death. Looking at the side-effects of smoking, and knowing the majority of adult smokers began smoking as teenagers, this study isn’t so much surprising as it is sad. A short-term stress release and image-boost cannot possibly be worth risking and even losing your life.

If you are looking to quit smoking, or know someone who is, you may click here to go to the CDC page with tips on how to kick this habit.