Teens & Smoking

During an adolescent check up, I talk to each teen about smoking.  While the rates of cigarette smoking in teens continues to drop, 20% of teens in the U.S. consider themselves to be regular smokers.  

Added to that statistic is the fact that every day almost 3,900 adolescents under the age of 18 try their first cigarette.  Little do they know how addicting nicotine is.  30% of those teen smokes will continue smoking into adulthood.

 Smoking has many health hazards which we all know: it causes cancer, emphysema and heart disease.  It also shortens a persons life span by 10-15 years. But teens know these facts and continue to smoke. What many teens need to be reminded of is that smoking also causes more immediate side effects such as bad-breath, yellow fingernails and teeth, smoke smell on their hair and clothes and premature aging of their skin!! These facts seem to be of more interest to many teens. 

I just saw a study out of Australia in which teens tested a software program that showed them what they would look like in their 50s and 60s if they continued to smoke.  There is a Canadian based company that has developed face-aging software called April.  (the program is on the web at http://www.ageme.com).  

The researchers conducted a randomized controlled study at eight pharmacy sites in Australia targeting young smokers.  There were 160 participants (ages 18-30),  80 in control group and 80 in the intervention group. The study was conducted over a six month period.  

Participants were asked to complete a baseline questionnaire.  They all received a self-care guide on smoking.  But for the intervention group, the researchers took a picture of each participant and downloaded it on a laptop to show them what they would like as a smoker or a non smoker at age 55.  Those in the intervention group who saw the pictures were more than 3 times as likely to show less dependence on nicotine. Overall one in seven smokers quit after viewing their photo aged selves.  

Knowing that 1 of 5 teens who smoke say they smoke 13-15 cigarettes a day, if this photo-aging software can dissuade them from smoking or to reduce their nicotine habit, it may be more effective than lectures on the hazards of smoking.

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