Over half of teenagers who smoke become addicted, which can harm their physical and oral health.

Are cigarettes addictive in youth?

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug found in all tobacco products. Research tells us that three out of four high school smokers will not be able to quit and go on to become adult smokers. Some teenagers who use tobacco show early signs of addiction within days to weeks after starting to smoke. The younger the child when starting to smoke, the more likely they are to become addicted.

Over time, smokers develop a tolerance and need to use increasingly large amounts of nicotine to feel the same effect. Smokers can also experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit.

Is smokeless tobacco less harmful?

Smokeless tobacco products such as “dip” and “chew” contain more nicotine than cigarettes. Holding an average-sized “dip” in your mouth for 30 minutes can give the same amount of nicotine as smoking three cigarettes. In fact, using two cans of snuff in one week is equivalent to smoking one and a half packages of cigarettes per day in terms of nicotine exposure.

Vaping has also grown in popularity. These products are particularly appealing to youth as they are sold in flavours such as wintergreen, grape, berry, citrus and cherry. Some provinces have banned the sale of flavoured tobacco products for this reason.

Is vaping better for you? Do these e-cigarettes contain nicotine?

E-cigarettes can contain nicotine along with other harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde and other cancer causing agents. E-cigarettes may be considered a gateway and may actually encourage the use of tobacco products. The fact that e-cigarettes often use fruit and candy flavouring encourage youth to use them.

How is a child's oral and dental health affected by smoking and the use of other nicotine products?

Smoking has a harmful effect on oral health. It causes bad breath and discolouration of the teeth, tooth decay, receding gum lines and a reduced ability to taste and smell. It also leads to increased risk of oral cancers on the tongue, lips, floor of the mouth and gums, plus throat cancer. The risk of most oral cancers increases over time if the youth continues to smoke. In fact, most oral cancers can be attributed to tobacco use.

What else do I need to know about smoking and youth?

Teenage smokers are more likely to use alcohol, marijuana and cocaine, and to engage in other risky behaviours such as fighting and unprotected sex, according to a Centres For Disease Control report cited by the World Health Organization’s Tobacco Free Initiative. The law clearly states that tobacco and vapour products are not to be sold to youth. As responsible citizens we can help by reporting inappropriate sales of these products. And there are tailor-made resources to help youth quit smoking.

Even exposure to second hand smoke increases the risk of cancer and other diseases. We all have the right to be smoke free, and this includes children exposed to second hand smoke. In Canada, it is against the law to smoke in a vehicle with a child under the age of 16. As parents we can serve as good role models and limit exposure to second hand smoke by quitting smoking ourselves. Talk with your children about smoking, and start by setting a good example.