Tobacco use has often been portrayed as harmless, something the “cool” kids do, especially in popular TV shows aimed at teens, like “Skins” and “Euphoria.” But in reality, commercial* tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the U.S.
Considering that nearly 90% of adults who smoke daily started at or before 18, the teen years are a vital time to have conversations about preventing or stopping tobacco use with the youth in your life.
It’s very likely that the teen in your life knows someone who uses tobacco. Recent surveys have found that more than 2 million high schoolers used tobacco products in 2021 – about one in 10 students. That means in a typical classroom of 20 students, at least two of them are probably tobacco users.
To have productive conversations with youth around tobacco use, it’s important to understand why teens smoke, chew or vape. Sometimes it’s because of social pressures – their friends are smoking and they want to fit in. They are usually not thinking about the long-term negative effects of tobacco use on both physical and mental wellbeing. Tobacco use can cause chronic lung diseases, early heart disease, strokes, gum disease and tooth loss.
According to the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum, early tobacco use can be a warning sign of other pre-existing mental health challenges. In fact, current use of a commercial tobacco product use was reported by 14.2% of students reporting severe psychological distress, opposed to 5.5% with no distress. This may be because nicotine may temporarily lessen symptoms like poor concentration, low mood and stress, making people think it’s helping them manage their symptoms, when it’s really causing more harm long-term.
You can help. As a Mental Health First Aider, you can use the MHFA Action Plan (ALGEE) to help facilitate conversations and support youth in your life.
It is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to executing the MHFA Action Plan — you don’t have to run through the steps in order or even use every single one. Each situation is unique. What is important is starting the conversation and working together to make youth tobacco use a thing of the past. To learn more about supporting the mental wellbeing of young people in your life, sign up for a Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training today!
* For the purposes of this blog, we are referring to the use of commercial tobacco and not the sacred and traditional use of tobacco by some American Indian communities.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, October 29). Health effects of cigarette smoking. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, March 10). Tobacco use. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/tobacco.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, March 23). Youth and tobacco use. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/youth_data/tobacco_use/index.htm
Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA: For Adults Assisting Children and Youth. Washington, D.C.: National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020 January). Do people with mental illness and substance use disorders use tobacco more often? https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/tobacco-nicotine-e-cigarettes/do-people-mental-illness-substance-use-disorders-use-tobacco-more-often
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2022, March). Results from the annual National Youth Tobacco Survey. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/youth-and-tobacco/results-annual-national-youth-tobacco-survey
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020, July). 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey infographic. https://digitalmedia.hhs.gov/tobacco/hosted/2020-National-Youth-Tobacco-Survey.pdf