- Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health
- Is smoking tobacco really addictive?
- Why do people start smoking?
- How many people use tobacco?
- What in tobacco smoke is harmful?
- Is secondhand (environmental) tobacco smoke dangerous?
- How does tobacco use affect the economy?
- What’s being done to protect people from the hazards of smoking?
- Are spit tobacco and snuff safe alternatives to smoking?
- What are the health risks of smoking pipes or cigars?
- What about electronic cigarettes? Aren’t they safe?
- Is dissolvable tobacco safe?
- What about more exotic forms of smoking tobacco, such as clove cigarettes, bidis, and hookahs?
- What can I do to help with any damage that may have been caused by smoking?
- Can quitting really help a lifelong smoker?
- How do people quit tobacco?
- To learn more
Why do people start smoking?
Most people start smoking as teens. Those with friends and/or parents who smoke are more likely to start smoking than those who don’t. Some teens say that they “just wanted to try it,” or they thought it was “cool” to smoke.
The tobacco industry’s ads, price breaks, and other promotions for its products are a big influence in our society. The tobacco industry spends billions of dollars each year to create and market ads that show smoking as exciting, glamorous, and safe.
Despite the fact that cigarette brand product placement in movies was banned by the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, cigarettes appeared in 2 out of 3 box office hit movies in 2005. More than one-third of the movies were youth-rated films. The number of movies with tobacco-related scenes has gone down since 2005. But in 2010, more than 30% of top-grossing movies rated G, PG, and PG-13 had tobacco scenes. And studies show that young people who see smoking in movies are more likely to start smoking.
Another common way youth are exposed to tobacco is through the Internet, a largely unregulated source of entertainment. The effect the Internet has on teen smoking is an area of research interest.
TV ads for smoking have been banned for many years, but films that show tobacco brands are much more likely to include smoking scenes as part of their TV trailers. This seems to undercut the intent of the TV ad ban.
Who is most likely to become addicted?
Anyone who starts using tobacco can become addicted to nicotine. Studies show that cigarette smoking is most likely to become a habit during the teen years. The younger a person is when they begin to smoke, the more likely they are to become addicted to nicotine.
According to the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report, very few people start smoking after age 25. Nearly 9 out of 10 adult smokers started by age 18, and 99% started by age 26.
Last Medical Review: 11/08/2012
Last Revised: 07/08/2013