Are you between 15 & 24 years old?? Did you know that you are considered "at risk" for starting smoking? Well, according to Health Canada, people within this age group are more likely to pick up the habit, and it can quickly turn into a life-long addiction! The scary part of this is that a smoking habit can increase the likelihood of many health problems, for you and those around you.

In 2005, approximately 964,000 young people in Canada (aged 15 to 24) were found to smoke about 11 cigarettes each day —does that sound like you? The good news is that most provinces have shown a slight decrease in smoking rates, except for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, where there has been an increase in the amount of youth who smoke. British Columbia has the lowest smoking rates...Way to go BC!

Research shows that both boys and girls are smoking almost equally, however girls are most likely to try smoking younger than age 15. Unfortunately, the younger you start, the more addicted you become, which makes it much harder to quit down the road.

So if you are reading this article and thinking, "Who cares?" or "I can quit if I want to" or "I don't smoke so why should I worry?" let me fill you in on a few facts:

Cigarettes are made up of over 4000 different chemicals, some of which are pretty frightening and scary. Like arsenic, which is rat poison, and acetone, which is in the stuff to remove nail polish. To make matters worse, some of these chemicals are known "carcinogens", which means they can cause cancer.

Once these chemicals go into your lungs they grab on to fine hairs that are on the inside the lung, called cilia. With every breath that we take, dirt and dust enter our lungs and it is these little hairs that help sweep this junk out. If the cilia are covered in the chemicals produced from smoking, yucky stuff like germs and dirt stick around and so do the chemicals.

These chemicals affect how the lungs take oxygen into the blood stream and get rid of carbon dioxide. There are little thin sacs deep in the lung called alveoli, where this exchange of gases takes place. The chemicals involved in smoking damages these delicate sacs, making them inflexible and tough, which interferes with how well oxygen is absorbed.

What does that mean? Over time, this makes the smoker unable to get the normal amount of oxygen into the body, which is why many smokers huff and puff when they do any kind of physical activity. This is the body telling them that they aren't getting enough oxygen.

Another thing that happens in your lungs when you smoke is the over production of mucus...yuck! This thick gunk interferes with the work of the cilia and alveoli and also brings on what is commonly known as the dreaded "smokers cough". The coughing happens because the lungs are trying to get all the extra mucus out and also rid itself of all the waste left behind.

These chemicals cause lots of trouble for the people who smoke and also for those who don't. In fact, the smoke from a lit cigarette that isn't inhaled by the smoker has been shown to have higher levels of the nasty, dangerous chemicals. This means that second hand smoke may be as dangerous as smoking.

Many health problems may occur because of smoking; Smoking is the #1 cause of lung cancer; with second hand smoke being the second cause of this form of cancer. Breathing problems, like asthma, are more common, and can be worsened by second hand smoke as well. People who smoke have more lung infections and colds, and that means more sick days off from school. People who smoke for many years also have a higher risk of heart disease and strokes.

A big drawback of smoking is the huge cost of the habit! Canadian statistics show that the cost of cigarettes has been rising since 2002, with an average cost of $ 7.40. That is a hefty price to pay for a habit that will affect your senses of taste and smell (which means the foods you love will not taste or smell as good!).

So be brave...If you are smoking, find a way to quit. Talk to your parents, your doctor, or find a place that helps kids quit. If you know someone who smokes, tell them what the habit is doing to them, how dangerous it is for them and those around them. Do whatever you can to "BUTT OUT"!

Learn More!

Kessler, DA. (1995, July 20). Nicotine addiction in young people. New England Journal of Medicine, 333(3), 186-189.

Tortora, G.J., Grabowski, S.R. (2002). Principles of Anatomy and Physiology (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Centers for Disease Control

"Healthy youth: Tobacco."

"Tobacco information and prevention source (TIPS): Health effects of smoking among young people"

"Facts you should know."

Health Canada

"Healthy living: Tobacco."

"Healthy living: Backgrounder on constituents and emissions reported for cigarettes sold in Canada-2004."

"Canadian tobacco use monitoring survey (CTUMS) 2005."

"Cigarettes inside —out: Reading the fine print on cigarette packaging."

"Healthy living: Second-hand smoke."

"The scoop: What's the deal with smoking?"

"Healthy living: Smoking and your body."

The Lung Association

"How smoking hurts your lungs."

"Smoking and tobacco: Facts about smoking: Teens and smoking."

"Second-hand smoke."

"Smoking and tobacco: Facts about smoking: What's in cigarettes."

Statistics Canada

"Food and other selected items (average retail prices) Statistics Canada, CANSIM, table 326-0012."

Photo Credit: www.Simmonscenterild.upmc.com/Diseases.htm

Karen Woodland is a registered nurse with 14 years nursing experience,and is currently completing a masters program in community health atMemorial University of Newfoundland.

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