Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health

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Why do people start smoking?

Most people start smoking as teens. Those who have 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. The numbers of movies showing smokers started going up again in 2011 and 2012. And studies show that young people who see smoking in movies are more likely to start smoking. The 2014 Surgeon General Report stated that cutting back smoking in movies aimed at youth (from 275 exposures per year down to 10 or less) could reduce teen smoking as much as 18%.

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 undercuts 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 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. But a trend noted in 2012 suggests that more people 18 and older are becoming smokers. It seems that some people are postponing this habit, but the reasons for this are not clear.


Last Medical Review: 02/13/2014
Last Revised: 02/13/2014