Statistics show that children are most likely to start smoking between the ages of 15-16. There are many factors to suggest why teenagers are starting to take up smoking at a young age. Two thirds of smokers start the bad habit before the age of 18. Studies have shown that teenagers have tried a cigarette at as young as 11.
Peer pressure, and mental health are some factors that people believe contributes to children beginning to smoke at a younger age. I have looked in to some of the reasons on this in a bit more detail.
One factor people believe contribute to underage smokers starting at an earlier age is by the influences around teenagers. Examples of these are popular TV shows, films and music watched and listened to by teenagers. Younger people might see it as a ‘cool’ thing to do if they see their idol do it on screen. They won’t know the harmful health effects smoking has because this will not be portrayed in a song, film, or TV show.
Love Island, a well-known TV show with a particularly large audience of young people received a backlash last year. This was due to the amount of times the contestants were shown to be smoking on the show. Viewers argued that this was sending a bad message to the shows younger viewers and that it wasn’t a positive message to send. Love Island this year did not feature any contestants smoking on the show. It was banned from the villa and those who wanted to smoke had to do it at a premise outside of the villa.
Evidence shows that children who are brought up in deprived areas are more likely to start smoking. This can be due to the lack of knowledge the community has on the harmful health effects by smoking. There are more people smoking in deprived areas compared to those living in other suburban areas. This will send a negative image to the younger people living in the community and they may consider starting smoking as many people around them already do such as their friends, neighbours and family members. This gives children a lack of role models to look up to.
People living in more deprived areas and or living in poverty are more likely to not be as educated on the dangerous effects that smoking has on your health. Therefore, they cannot tell younger people these facts that may put them off smoking.
Another factor to consider on why teenagers have started smoking at a younger age is due to the fact people in their household are regular smokers. Studies at the University of Washington have shown that 12 years olds whose parents smoke are twice as likely to start smoking compared to those whose parents don’t smoke.
Parents who do smoke are encouraged not to involve their children in tasks that are associated with their smoking habit such as getting them to light their cigarette for them or fetching their cigarettes from the back of their car, as well as going to smoking prevention groups on how they can tackle their smoking by decreasing it or stopping it fully. A household with no smokers is the best way to prevent your children from starting to smoke. 13% of kids whose parent never smoked said have never had a cigarette. In comparison, 38% of teens whose parent was dependent on smoking had smoked at least one cigarette.
Mental health is a key factor to understand why children are smoking at a younger age. Like adults who smoke, children may smoke to combat stress they are facing in their lives. There has been an increase in teenagers suffering from mental health issues. This can be due to the stress of school, relationships and family life. A lot of these kids are looking for a sense of relief from this and can therefore turn to the habit.
The nicotine inhaled from a cigarette gives a sense of relief and pleasure, creating positive feeling and lifting your mood. Young people with mental illnesses are more likely to begin regularly and more heavily than other children. Three in four cases of mental illnesses start in childhood. 10% of school children have been diagnosed with a mental health illness. These studies show that mental health affects many teenagers. It’s therefore is an important thing to look at when questioning underage smoking.
These are some important factors that have been studied to explain some of the key things that may encourage children to smoke at younger ages. Any child who is facing one or more of these issues are made more vulnerable to taking up smoking. and will find it more difficult to get out of the habit in the future.