Tobacco Use

Among Teens

Would you be surprised to learn that every day, about 1,600 U.S. children & teens smoke their first cigarette? According to data from the CDC, about 4.7 million middle and high school students use at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes.

Why teens should not use tobacco:

The addiction rate for smoking is higher than that of alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine (AddictionCenter). Roughly 1 in 5 of those who smoke under 18 will become regular users (American Lung Association).

Tobacco products are known by various names including Cigs, Smokes, & Squares.

Lung Icon

Smoking dramatically increases a teen’s risk for heart and lung disease (National Jewish Health).

7% Icon

In 2018, over half of all smokers tried to quit. Only 7% succeeded (CDC).

Tips for Parents – What to Look For

One of the most popular ways to consume tobacco is smoking, but it is not the only method teens use. Other methods, like smokeless tobacco, may be easier to conceal.


Cigarettes remain one of the most popular forms of tobacco use to date. In addition to tobacco cigarettes contain dangerous additives, 60 of which are known to cause cancer. Fortunately, cigarette smoking is decreasing among middle and high schoolers according to the CDC. The pungent smell and public awareness of smoking have made it less appealing to teens.

Smokeless Tobacco

Chew, spit tobacco, or other smokeless tobacco products are easier to hide and are less smelly than cigarettes. Unfortunately, nicotine is just as addicting and chew tobacco may present an accidental poisoning risk for children. While smokeless tobacco may come in appealing flavors, the substance is so strong that addiction may form after a single use. Addiction to smokeless tobacco can lead to receding gums, tooth loss, and a variety of oral and throat cancers.


Known also as water pipes, this form of tobacco can also come in flavors appealing to teens. The concept of using water may trick users into thinking this method is safer. While this method is not too popular with middle and high schoolers, college students are reportedly unaware of the dangers of hookah use. This low negative perception should be addressed early on to protect young people from the exact same harmful effects as cigarette smoking, such as lung, bladder, and oral cancers and heart disease. In addition, users tend to spend a long time using a hookah (1-2 hours) vs. a cigarette (11 minutes), inhaling more nicotine, and increasing the likelihood of addiction.


While a cigarette is a blend of multiple types of tobacco, a cigar is a single type of fermented tobacco. A Monitoring the Future study found that roughly 10 percent of teens in grades 9-12 had smoked a cigar — the same percentage as those who have smoked a cigarette. Due to the fermentation process, cigars have more toxins than a cigarette and are unfiltered, making them even more dangerous than traditional smoking.

How to tell if someone uses tobacco

Teens using tobacco tend to display the following symptoms:


  • Yellowing teeth or fingernails
  • Receding gum line (from smokeless tobacco)
  • Burns in clothing from cigar/cigarette spark
  • Chronic cough
  • Short temper; edgy
  • Sneaking outside for roughly ten minute intervals

Talk to teens about Tobacco use.

Have a conversation with your teens about tobacco. When talking, remain calm and keep an open mind to create an honest dialogue with your kids. Refrain from harsh judgment, but aim to promote awareness of the following:

  • The visual effects of chronic tobacco use (gum disease, premature wrinkles, smell, yellowing fingernails, etc)
  • All forms of tobacco are addictive
  • If you smoke, discuss your own story and what you regret about tobacco use
  • Your kids can always call you at any time of day, judgment-free, for a safe ride home from a dangerous situation

Data and statistics obtained for this website come from trusted sources such as the CDC and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. For more information, please contact us.