Puffing your Life Away

Puffing your life away

Picking up smoking during your teen years can cause severe damage to your body because you’re starting young. Discover how you can.

“I’ve been smoking since I was 15 and at that time, I only started because I thought it looked cool. I’m about to turn 18 and I’ve still not kicked the habit. It’s taking a toll on my wallet, I’m getting stains on my fingernails and I’m also stressed from having to hide my habit from my parents. I wish I could quit cigarettes but a day without one feels like torture!” –Jessie*, 18 years old

Jessie sounds like she’s in a conundrum but the answer to her problems is very clear. Just quit already! However, she’s unwilling to go through with it because withdrawal symptoms are not her cup of tea.

Tropicana Medical Centre’s Consultant Respiratory and General Physician, Dr. Tan Lan Eng, shares her insights on teen smoking, the risks it has on a young person’s health and the benefits of quitting.

Malicious misconceptions

According to Dr. Tan, the number one misconception that teens have when it comes to smoking is that cigarettes can help them relieve stress. “Other than that, they also think that they won’t have to worry about the health effects of smoking, quitting is easy and smoking socially won’t get them addicted to cigarettes,” she says.

What teenagers don’t realise is that the younger a person is when they start smoking, the greater the harm to the body. “This is because the early uptake is associated with heavy smoking, a higher level of dependency on cigarettes, lower chances of quitting and a higher mortality rate as well,” she adds. Dr. Tan also says that around one third of teen smokers perish 13 to 14 years earlier than non-workers. “Teen smokers are more likely to have panic attacks, anxiety disorders and suffer from mental health problems such as depression. They are also more likely to attempt suicide and engage in high risk sexual behaviour,” notes Dr. Tan.

Decreased lung capacity is another side effect of smoking and teen smokers have far lower lung function compared to teens who have never smoked. “Smoking hurts a young person’s physical fitness in terms of both performance and endurance. A young smoker’s resting heart rate is faster than a non-smoker’s by two to three beats per minute. Teen smokers suffer from shortness of breath almost three times as often as teens who don’t smoke and produce phlegm more than twice as often as teens who don’t smoke,” says Dr. Tan.

Being influenced to smoke can happen at any age. Smoking initiation is associated with a wide range of risk factors including parents and siblings who smoke, the ease of buying a packet of cigarettes and of course, peer pressure.

It is important to note that this last factor is especially potent. For many teens, it is easy to give in to peer pressure because they just want to be liked or do not want to be made fun of. Pay attention to your own feelings and beliefs and say no when offered a cigarette. Who knows, you might be able to positively influence someone else to say no.

Physical effects

Chemicals in cigarettes restrict blood flow to the skin so smokers are more likely to have obvious negative physical effects. “By the time they’re in their mid-20s, smokers who started smoking in their teens will have a greyish, lined face, stained teeth and hair that’s dull and smelly,” elaborates Dr. Tan.

Other than these effects, there are multiple issues related to secondhand smoke which is a combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and smoke breathed out by other smokers. “There are about 7,000 chemicals in secondhand smoke which can cause numerous health problems especially in infants and children. More frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome are a few conditions that can affect those who live, work and spend time around a smoker,” says Dr. Tan. She adds that adults who are exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.

Do it while you’re young

By quitting cigarettes, an individual’s risk of diabetes is lowered, blood vessels do their work better which helps the lungs and heart as well. “You may be able to help your planet if you quit smoking. Deforestation due to tobacco production accounts for nearly five percent of overall deforestation in the developing world,” says Dr. Tan.

Taking the first step

Dr. Tan advises teens who want to quit smoking to maintain a smoke-free lifestyle. “During the first few weeks of quitting, you might feel a strong oral fixation so stock up on healthy snacks to keep your mouth busy. Keep positive and ensure you get support from your family and friends. Keep reminding yourself of the reasons you decided to quit and think of all the benefits to your health, finances and your family. Ride out the desire to smoke and most importantly, stay away from places where you can easily get cigarettes.”

It is also the best to speak to your medical provider and letting them know that you’re in the midst of quitting cigarettes. They’ll be able to advise you further on diet, exercise and other changes you’ll need to make to successfully quit smoking.

What happens when you quit


20 minutes -> Heart rate and blood pressure becomes normal

12 hours -> Carbon monoxide levels drop to normal

2 to 3 weeks -> Blood circulation improves and lung function increases

1 to 9 months -> Coughing and shortness of breath decreases which reduces risk of upper respiratory infection

1 year -> Excess risk of coronary heart disease halve compared to a smoker’s

2 to 5 years -> Risk of stroke falls to that of a non-smoker

5 years -> Risk of mouth, throat, oesophagus and bladder cancers cut in half whereas risk of cervical cancer falls to that of a non-smoker.

10 years -> Risk of dying from lung cancer is half of that of a smoker’s

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