Teens & Tobacco: Use, Perceptions, and Prevention

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The CDC tells us there is no safe form of tobacco use for adolescents, but more than 3,000 young people still start smoking each day.[1] While we’ve made progress in reducing smoking among teens, far too many young people are still using tobacco causing both immediate and long-term damage. Let’s talk about tobacco and teens and learning more about youth smoking through survey data.

Teen Tobacco Use in the US

Because tobacco use is still established primarily during adolescence – nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18, and 98% first tried smoking by age 26[2] –prevention of tobacco use among teens is vital to ending smoking in America.

In 2015, 25% of high school students and 7% of middle school students had used a tobacco product.[3] The most common forms of tobacco use among high school students then were e-cigarettes (16%) and cigarettes (9%).[4] From 2011 to 2015, there were significant increases in e-cigarette use among middle and high school students with nearly 4 out of every 100 middle school students reporting using an e-cigarette in the last 30 days and 11 out of 100 high school students doing the same. Given these numbers, it’s important to educate students that any exposure to nicotine is dangerous and ramp up education programs to include all forms of tobacco as different products emerge.

Our Pride Surveys Questionnaire for Grades 6-12 Standard Report from 2016-17 revealed that while more than 94% of students in 6th-12th grade had not smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days, 4% still used tobacco every week.[5] In this same report, 66% of students said their friends never use tobacco while 6% said they use tobacco a lot.[6] These numbers indicate that it is important to examine the use of tobacco products by students and increase education about the dangers of smoking beginning in middle school, if not before.

Teen Smoking Prevention

The younger that teens are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to become addicted. Addiction to nicotine leads to the prolonged use of tobacco and to potentially severe health consequences.

Ongoing efforts to implement proven teen smoking prevention strategies are essential to prevent teen use of tobacco products. And, while they are decreasing, overall rates of teen tobacco use remain too high; if current tobacco use persists, an estimated 5.6 million of today’s teens could eventually die prematurely from a smoking-related disorder.[7] Learning about smoking prevention and helping teens quit is fundamental to parents, educators, and communities.

The Mayo Clinic has several suggestions on keeping teens smoke-free including how to combat peer pressure, talking about addiction to nicotine, or adding up the expense of cigarettes over time. Doing the math can be enlightening: smoking a pack a day costs upwards of $2000 per year. That’s a lot of cash that could be better spent in so many ways. Remember to think beyond cigarettes to include e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, clove cigarettes, and hookahs as you have these conversations – they’re just as harmful and preventable.

Setting a good example for teens is also essential when it comes to preventing smoking. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. Not only does it improve your lung, heart, and brain function, your sense of smell and taste can return to normal in just a few days. If you need help quitting smoking, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Pride Surveys developed its Risk and Protective Factor (RPF) student perception survey, a hybrid version of the Communities That Care (CTC) Youth Survey and the Pride Questionnaire for Grades 6 to 12 to measure the factors that show the strongest correlation to illicit substance use. This four-page survey contains the updated Core Measures required by SAMHSA for their Drug-Free Communities Grant, and community coalitions and other grantees can use this survey to provide data for funding.

For more than thirty years, Pride Surveys has been helping schools collect data on teen substance abuse perceptions and drug use trends in their communities through scalable survey products. We offer multiple drug-free community survey options as well as student risk perception surveys designed to help assess teen substance abuse and risk, including our student surveys for grades 4-6grades 6-12, and our supplemental surveys like the Drug-Free Community Survey Supplement. Please contact us online or call (800) 279-6361 for more information.



[1]  “Guidelines for School Health Programs to Prevent Tobacco Use and Addiction.” Retrieved 12 December, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00026213.htm

[2] “2014 Surgeon General’s Report: The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress.” Retrieved 25 June 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/50th-anniversary/index.htm

[3] “Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School Students — United States, 2011–2015.” Retrieved 25 June 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6514a1.htm

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Pride Surveys Questionnaire for Grades 6-12 Standard Report 2016-17.”

[6] Ibid.

[7] “2014 Surgeon General’s Report: The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress.” Retrieved 25 June 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/50th-anniversary/index.htm

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