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Dangers of Smoking

Despite the fact that more than 400,000 people in the United States die every year from lung disease and other maladies related to smoking, there’s always a new crop of young adults to take their place. In fact, the Surgeon General reports nearly 3,000 kids under the age of 18 start smoking every day. By now, every college student in America has received the message that smoking is bad for their health, is a drain on their wallet and doesn’t make them as cool to the opposite sex as they might think; yet they’re still picking up the habit.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight percent of middle school students and over 20 percent of high school students smoke. These estimates climb even higher among the college age group (18-24 years), with approximately 25 percent of young adults reporting current tobacco use. The good news is that the more education a person has, the less likely they are to smoke. Only approximately 1 in 10 individuals with a college degree smoke, as compared to over 40 percent of individuals with a General Education Development (GED) diploma.

There Really Is No Safe Smoke

First things first: There is no safe cigarette. Filtered, menthol, light, ultra light—it doesn’t matter what the package says. The truth is, a cigarette isn’t just some dried tobacco leaves rolled up in a neat little paper sleeve. Sure, it starts out as tobacco, but then it’s processed with nicotine and scores of other chemicals, including ammonia and urea (the stuff that comes out of you when you sweat or urinate). The smoke from a cigarette contains things like hydrogen cyanide (found in rat poison), formaldehyde (used in embalming fluid) and arsenic (used as an insecticide before safer alternatives were developed).

Hookah, Anyone?

So what about all those new hookah bars and cafes that are popping up throughout the United States? In spite of the hookah’s growing popularity, particularly with teens and young adults, smoking a hookah (or water pipe) is really no safer than smoking cigarettes. In fact, according to a World Health Organization advisory, a typical one-hour session of hookah smoking delivers more than 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke you’d get from a single cigarette…plus significant levels of toxic chemicals and metals, cancer-causing compounds and addictive nicotine, too.

Smokeless Doesn’t Mean Harmless

The bottom line is this: there really is no risk-free alternative to cigarettes, and that includes the many types of smokeless tobacco that may be chewed, spit or dipped. Not only can smokeless tobacco be every bit as addictive as cigarettes, it can also cause health problems from cavities and gum disease to heart disease and cancers of the mouth, throat, cheeks, lip and tongue. The Centers for Disease Control reports some 30,000 Americans are diagnosed every year with mouth and throat cancers—and 8,000 of them will die from those diseases.

Burning Your Money

Still want to take a drag? Well, you must have some money to burn (literally!) or nothing better to spend your money on. After all, who needs things like sporting goods, video game systems, MP3 players or birthday presents for your friends and family? According to MSN Money, the average pack of cigarettes costs around $4.50 to $5.00.

  • A person who smokes just five cigarettes per day will spend nearly $456 in a year and close to $2,281 in five years.
  • A person with a pack-a-day habit will spend just short of $1,825 a next year and just short of $10,000 on the 36,500 cigarettes in five years

So, why to college students smoke? Read over the following typical reasons and see how many of them apply to you.

  • One or both of your parents smoke.
  • Someone you admire (athlete, musician, etc.) smokes.
  • You believe you’re more likely to be accepted by peers if you smoke.
  • You’re influenced by smoking advertising and marketing.
  • You believe you can’t/won’t get hooked and can quit anytime you want.
  • You think smoking will help you lose weight, reduce stress, etc.
  • You believe smoking helps you perform certain tasks (studying, dealing with a stressful phone call, staying awake, etc.).

Rising above the societal forces to resist smoking may be one of the toughest challenges you’ll face in college. When you add in other factors like alcohol, school, family, friends and money, maybe you think something just has to give. But deciding not to start smoking is just that—a decision. It doesn’t require you to go anywhere, spend any money or compromise your principles.

Deciding to quit smoking can be easy, but actually quitting can be significantly harder. Still, it’s a decision that needs to be made. If you’re like most college students, you’re just beginning to explore your own opinions and create a life for yourself that is not beholden to anyone or anything. (Really, how many times have you been faced with something you don’t like and answered back, “It’s my life!”?) So when it comes to smoking, the question is, who are you benefiting—yourself or the tobacco companies that take your money and your health?


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Cancer Society

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