The best way to keep adolescents from smoking is to focus on issues close to their hearts-how it affects their looks, their popularity, and their physical performance-says Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., author of You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10-25. These six smoking myths summarize what they need to know-and may help remind adults who are trying to quit, too.
Myth: Smoking is sexy.
Facts: Smoking causes bad breath, yellow teeth, gum disease, hacking coughs, excess phlegm, smelly hair, stained fingers, and burn holes in your favorite clothes. Surveys show that most teenagers do not want to go out with, much less kiss, someone who smokes.
Myth: Cigarettes are relaxing.
Facts: In reality, the opposite is true. Just one puff on a cigarette causes heart rate and blood pressure to increase. The reason smokers feel that cigarettes are relaxing is that they are addicted to nicotine. When the nicotine from their last cigarette wears off (about a half hour after it was smoked), their body craves more and they cannot relax until they have another. Cigarettes create tension that only cigarettes can relieve.
Myth: Exercise counteracts the effects of smoking.
Facts: Cigarettes are poison. Every puff of cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas that is also blown out of a car's exhaust pipe), tar, and fifteen known carcinogens. Smoke paralyzes the cilia, hairlike structures that sweep irritants and germs out of the lungs, making you more vulnerable to colds, the flu, and bronchitis. Someone who smokes a pack a day for a year has about a quart of tar sitting in his lungs. All the exercise, vitamins, and health foods in the world won't get rid of these poisons. Smoking lowers the level of oxygen in the bloodstream, causes shortness of breath, and reduces stamina, making exercise more difficult.
Myth: Smoking helps you lose weight. Girls in particular, are likely to see smoking as a way to improve their looks.
Facts: There is some truth to this; indeed, it's one of the factors often cited as a reason why people continue smoking. On the average, smokers weigh 5 to 7 pounds less than nonsmokers. But averages disguise the range of individual differences: There are many fat smokers and just as many thin nonsmokers. The reasons smokers may weigh a little less probably are that they eat less and that smoking stimulates their metabolism so that they burn calories faster. So, yes, smoking may cause a temporary weight loss. But it also has a rebound effect: When smokers quit, they tend to gain weight even if they don't eat much more than they did when they were smoking, and they have more trouble taking that weight off.
Myth: I can always stop if I want to.
Facts: Most adults who smoke began smoking in their teens. The earlier they began to smoke, the more likely they are to be heavy smokers. When heavy smokers try to quit, they usually experience withdrawal symptoms (the jitters, irritability, sleep disturbances) for days or weeks after they quit, dream about cigarettes months later, and still experience cravings years later. Suggest that your teenager ask several older people who smoke, "If you had the choice today would you start smoking?" Nine out of ten smokers will say no and go on to describe how many times they've tried to stop. Most teenagers (90 percent) who've been smoking for a year or two wish they had never started. Many people who intend to be "social smokers" can't escape becoming addicted. And your chances of becoming addicted are much greater if you start smoking early.
Myth: But everyone is doing it.
Facts: Everyone isn't smoking. Recent studies show that a majority of teenagers don't think smoking is cool. Although slightly fewer than half of all teenagers try smoking before graduating high school, less than 10 percent of teens smoke daily. Fewer and fewer teenagers are smoking -- the proportion of teen smokers dropped by more than 50 percent in the last decade. Nonsmokers are in the majority, and smokers are the oddballs.
Buy You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10-25
Meet Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D.
Watch the Video: Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D. discusses You and Your Adolescent
Read Chapter 1 of You and Your Adolescent
How to Quit Smoking for Good
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