Bone chilling news for teenage smokers

February 15, 2013 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

A friend recently pointed out to me – a former smoker – one more reason for teenage girls not to smoke: It might weaken their bones.

Scientists at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that teenage girls who smoke are more likely to develop osteoporosis later in life than their smoke-free counterparts, according to research published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Startling, right? To think that, with every drag, our girls might actually be stunting their own physical development during a critical, unrepeatable period of growth. This is bracing, scary stuff.

But here’s something scarier: Will they care?

As a teenager in the 1980s, would I have heeded the warning? Would the possibility of brittle bones as an older woman have stopped me from tugging that first Marlboro Light out of its cellophane sleeve when I was 15? The truth is … I’m not so sure. After all, my father’s rattling cough hadn’t. Warnings from the Surgeon General, plastered right across the side of the cigarette pack, didn’t.

The reasons for me not to smoke were almost too numerous to count. In an essay I wrote years ago, I described how cigarettes seduced my entire family into a “malevolent web of dependence, illness, shortness of breath, yellow teeth, reeking hair, stinky clothes, ashy cars and unspeakable loss.”

Talk about your list of cons. And there are so many more arrows in that quiver:

  • Not only has cigarette smoking been linked to about 90 percent of all lung cancer cases, which is the No. 1 cancer killer. It’s also associated with cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, kidney, ureter and bladder.
  • It has also been well documented that smoking substantially increases the risk of heart disease, including stroke, heart attack, vascular disease, and aneurysm.
  • Cigarettes can make smokers lose some of their sense of taste and smell.
  • People who smoke have less stamina for exercise and sports.
  • Smoking can make a person’s skin age faster.
  • It takes 8 seconds for nicotine to reach the brain and change the way it works. One study found that teens who smoke a lot are 15 times more likely to have panic attacks than teens who don’t smoke. Teen smokers also are more likely to have anxiety disorders and depression.

But do such laundry lists of side effects work as a deterrent for today’s teen smokers? What about the recent TV ad that shows a disfigured former smoker getting ready for the day, by donning a blond wig and plugging up the hole in her throat with a simulated voice box called an electrolarynx? (It’s part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s larger “Tips from Former Smokers” campaign.)

The answer just might be “maybe.”

Smoking is at historically low levels among eighth, 10th, and 12th graders, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse.

But here’s the thing: With so much evidence of smoking’s harmful effects on teens’ emotional and physical health available, can we really afford to not scream these warnings from the rooftops?

You never know which message will finally break through and resonate with a smoker. So shouldn’t we keep throwing the whole pot of spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks? If it stops even one girl from lighting up, isn’t it worth the effort?

Especially when the alternative is, well, bone-chilling.


To read more about this topic, visit these sites:

Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention, “Tips from Former Smokers”

National Institute on Drug Abuse, Facts on Drugs: Tobacco

National Cancer Institute, SmokeFree Teen site

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

New York State Smokers’ Quitline: 1-866-NY-QUITS

Laura Ryan has been a communications specialist with the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service since January 2012. Before that, she spent the better part of the 1990s and 2000s chronicling the municipal, criminal, trivial, inspirational, magical, comical and awful for several newspapers in Florida and New York. When she’s not communicating the facts, she likes to read (and sometimes even pretend to write) fiction.

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