Smoking & Vaping During Adolescence
Most people who use tobacco started during adolescence, and those who begin at a younger age are more likely to develop nicotine dependence and have trouble quitting.
Nicotine’s Effects on the Brain
Any exposure to nicotine among youth is a concern. The adolescent brain is still developing, and nicotine has effects on the brain’s reward system and brain regions involved in emotional and cognitive functions. The nicotine-related changes to these areas of the brain during adolescence may:
- Perpetuate continued tobacco use into adulthood
- Contribute to a higher rate of other substance use disorders (sometimes referred to as a “gateway” effect)
Risk Factors for Nicotine Dependence
Mental health, beliefs about smoking, perception of schoolmates’ smoking, and other substance use are additional factors that can influence an adolescent’s risk for smoking and nicotine dependence. Emotional problems—including depression and recent negative life events—are associated with tobacco use among adolescents. Smoking among peers and within social groups is a major environmental factor that influences adolescent smoking; social smoking is a more important motivator for adolescents compared to adult smokers.
It is common for adolescent smoking to follow an intergenerational pattern, which has genetic, epigenetic, and environmental influences. Current parental nicotine dependence is strongly linked with adolescent smoking and dependence. Other factors—such as parents’ education, marital status, and parenting behavior—also influence teen smoking.