Samyuktha R from Bengaluru, who was curious about why her children were taking frequent breaks and stepping out to the terrace, became baffled after witnessing her 16-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son passing a cigarette to each other. She says she is glad that she picked up on the signs of tobacco addiction in her children early and was able to seek help.
Samyuktha (name changed) and her husband are both accountants based in Bengaluru. Speaking to Happiest Health, she said, “Though I was angry, I stayed calm and asked if they knew what they were doing. They threw the cigarette and started to apologise for their behaviour. After speaking to them, I learnt that they had picked up the habit a year ago and were getting addicted to it.”
What parents should know about teenage tobacco addiction
Consumption of tobacco at a young age, either by smoking or chewing, will cause irreversible, severe damage to the body, says Dr Deepanshu Gurnani, consultant, ENT & Oncology, Narayana Multispeciality Hospital, Jaipur.
Parents must be aware of the following aspects which can make their children addicted to tobacco products:
1. Peer pressure
“Teenagers are easily influenced by their surroundings, and it’s important for parents to know who they hang out with,” said Dr Gurnani, adding that parents should be able to have open conversations with them, educating them about the dangers of tobacco use.
Samyuktha says she found out that all her children’s friends were smoking cigarettes, and the two teens came under peer pressure to look cool in front of them. “Initially, it was my daughter who started to try it at home and as a result, my younger son picked up the habit as well,” she said.
2. Alternate forms of tobacco
“Earlier, it used to be cigarettes and beedis, but now things have evolved,” says Dr Nimish Shah, consultant pulmonologist, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai, adding that the newer versions of tobacco, such as vaping, hookah or sheesha, are commonly consumed by teenagers today.
Dr Gurnani added that e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products are all newer forms of tobacco which are causing addiction among the youth.
Tobacco can also be consumed orally, which include products like paan, tambaku, gutka and other forms of chewing tobacco, said Dr Shah. “These products are as bad as smoking cigarettes, as they contain significant amounts of tobacco and nicotine,” he added.
3. Teens imitate parents and elders at home
Elders become role models to the younger generation, and when they don’t set the right examples, the youth will follow them, said Dr Gurnani.
Recalling a recent incident of a 17-year-old boy who couldn’t open his mouth and struggled to eat, Dr Gurnani said, “The boy had picked up eating paan and supari at the age of thirteen, following his maternal uncle. In just four years, he developed oral submucous fibrosis (OSMF), a debilitating condition of the oral cavity where the person cannot open the mouth as wide as a normal person, affecting the consumption of food. Thankfully, he had not developed cancer and was put on rehabilitation.”
He adds that elders who normalise smoking and tobacco consumption in front of children and adolescents, influence them to follow in their footsteps.
4. Influence through well-known personalities
According to Dr Gurnani, many big firms and famous personalities are involved in surrogate advertising of tobacco products (As tobacco cannot be advertised directly due to prohibition of law, it is advertised and sold under the disguise of a different product by the same company).
“Teens who look up to those personalities are easily influenced and pick up smoking or chewing tobacco,” he said.
5. Tobacco affects almost all the organs
Tobacco is a known carcinogen (any substance, organism or agent capable of causing cancer), says Dr Shah. “Any form of tobacco can lead to oral, throat and lung cancer.”
However, he adds that ill effects of tobacco addiction aren’t limited to the airway and oral cavity. It can also cause other forms of cancers (like stomach cancer).
Other adverse effects can include an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, hypertension and diabetes. “Smoking forms plaques (build-up of fats, cholesterol, calcium and other substances) that causes thickening and narrowing of the blood vessels, leading to reduced blood circulation,” he explains.
6. Behavioural changes
Tobacco addiction will cause teens to repeatedly find excuses to step out for smoking. “They avoid spending time with family and take breaks while studying to step out for a smoke. They show signs of irritation, anger and loss of focus when they are stopped from stepping out,” said Dr Gurnani.
In Samyuktha’s case, she noticed her children having withdrawal symptoms and helped them quit smoking through counselling.
7. Easy availability
Though there are bans on the sale of tobacco near educational institutions, they are still easily available. “There are many makeshift shops where people sell tobacco products on their bikes and then move to another location. There is no proper regulation; government needs to start monitoring these sellers to crack them down,” said Dr Gurnani.
Selling single stick cigarettes is making it easier for teens to purchase them at a lower cost. “Buying a whole pack is expensive and teens will not have that much money to spend. Banning the sale of single stick cigarettes will help prevent them from smoking,” he added.