Cigarettes Are a Gateway Drug, Say Scientists

ThinkStockMost teens roll their eyes at the idea that any drug can be a "gateway" to more serious stimulants, but new data presented Sunday at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting found that teens who smoke cigarettes are 23 times more likely to smoke marijuana compared to those who don't use tobacco.

More on Yahoo! Shine: How to Prevent Teen Smoking

Researchers from Seattle Children's Research Institute and the University of Washington randomly chose 315 incoming college freshmen from two universities (one in the Midwest and another in the Northwest) and asked if they smoked cigarettes or marijuana, then asked them the same question after the school year ended.

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"We were surprised by the two outcomes," says study author Megan Moreno, MD,  associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. "First, teens who smoked cigarettes coming into their freshman year were 23 times more likely to smoke marijuana later that year. And second, kids who smoke both cigarettes and marijuana smoke cigarettes more frequently than those who only use tobacco."

"We had hoped that because there are only so many hours in a day, that teens who smoke marijuana and cigarettes wouldn't have time for more cigarettes but we found the opposite to be true," says Moreno.

Although Moreno's team didn't analyze why a cigarette dependency can morph into a drug habit or why cigarette use spikes when marijuana is involved, one potential solution to teen smoking is to beef up cessation campaigns. "There are brilliant people behind both marijuana and cigarette intervention," she says. "If we can bring these two efforts together to focus on preventing smoking of any kind, it would be more effective since cigarettes are closely related to marijuana."

If your kid isn't smoking cigarettes, that's great news. But if he or she smokes and shows no signs of quitting, how do you stop them from graduating to harder drugs? "Quitting cigarettes is just as physiologically difficult for teens as it is for older people yet it's difficult for some parents to accept the fact that their child may have a problem," addiction specialist Joel Nathan, M.D. told Yahoo! Shine. Here are three common mistakes parents make when it comes to dealing with a smoking kid.

Dismissing the problem as bad behavior: It's understandable that a parent would be angry or upset at the idea of their kid lighting up, but fleshing out the reasons why they are smoking is key. You may think, "It doesn't matter why!" but discussing the issue as a problem to overcome together will make your kid less defensive and likelier to open up.

Blurring the issue: Instead of rattling off (valid) health statistics that often fall deaf on teen ears, make sure he has a clear understanding of why he should quit and the consequences of not doing so—for example, he won't have stamina during sports or buying cigarettes will drain his bank account. "This will give him a concrete, specific goal to reach for when he's lacking willpower instead of viewing quitting as this intimidating, abstract idea," says Nathan. "And since teens generally haven't dealt with many life consequences, it may be a wake-up call."

Ignoring the social pressure: It goes without saying that teens are largely influenced by their peers. Emphasizing the social pitfalls of smoking (the opposite sex may not like it, stepping outside a party or event to puff is inconvenient and isolating), your kid may be likelier to put down the cigarettes for good, says Nathan.

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