What Gets a Teen to Smoke?

By Gail Sessoms
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Even with massive legislative action and public health campaigns to prevent tobacco use among young people, every day nearly 3,500 young people under the age of 18 try smoking for the first time, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids 2013 fact sheet. Even parents who take all the appropriate tobacco-prevention measures can discover that their child is one of the 1,000 kids who become regular smokers every day. Parents often wonder what makes teens decide to smoke cigarettes and what makes them choose to continue smoking in the face of so much information about the dangers.


Teens are more likely to smoke if their parents smoke. Parents should stop smoking if possible, according to MayoClinic.com. If you continue to smoke, you can still influence your teen not to smoke by talking honestly about the habit with your child. Explain the effects on your health, the social consequences, smell, cost and other negatives. Talk about how difficult it is to break the addiction. Keep cigarettes out of sight and out of the reach of your children.

Peers and Social Pressure

Teens often try smoking if a friend smokes or to fit in with a group and gain acceptance. Some teens begin smoking as a form of rebellion or to look tough. Teens use smoking to control or lose weight. Movies, music videos and other media images that glamorize smoking can convince teens that smoking is cool or a sign of sophistication. Television, movie images and Internet content often portray smoking as more common or acceptable than it is in real life.

Advertising and Marketing

Advertisers target teens with specific messages. Tobacco companies spend a significant amount of their advertising dollars to market their products attractive to teens. Studies published in a 1995 "Journal of the National Cancer Institute" article show that tobacco ads have more power than peer pressure in getting teens to smoke. Teens and younger children are more likely than adults to be persuaded by cigarette ads and marketing techniques. Marketing campaigns that appear to be aimed at adults instead appeal to teens, such as the Joe Camel campaign’s cool character and the related products, such as lighters and clothing.


Teens who succumbed to the pressures or influences to smoke often find themselves fighting a serious addiction when they want to stop smoking. Young people might experiment with smoking to see what it is like. Adolescents who smoke regularly often do not understand how addictive cigarettes are and how difficult it is to break the habit. The younger the child’s age during this experimentation period, the more likely he will continue to smoke during his teen years.


Tobacco use is a serious health and social issue, so parents have many resources available to help with smoking prevention and to help teens quit the habit. Teens are less likely to smoke if parents talk to them early and often about the bad habit. Make it clear that you are against smoking and talk honestly about the dangers, marketing campaigns and what your teen thinks about smoking. However, a teen who smokes needs help and support to break the addiction. Smoke-freeTeen.gov is an interactive website for youth who want to learn about smoking or who are ready to stop smoking. The site has phone apps and other resources to help teens break the addiction. Look to your family doctor, school counselor or local youth organizations for help.

About the Author

Gail Sessoms, a grant writer and nonprofit consultant, writes about nonprofit, small business and personal finance issues. She volunteers as a court-appointed child advocate, has a background in social services and writes about issues important to families. Sessoms holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies.