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Parents: Nicotine Is A Real Threat To Your Kids

by Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health - Published in September, 2000.

(NAPS)-Parents naturally worry about the health and safety of their children. Many parents teach their kids to avoid getting involved with drugs, although sometimes adults forget about the drug most abused by adolescents - nicotine.

Every year, teens continue to light up even though there is strong public awareness about the health hazards of smoking. When you're young, it's hard to think about the consequences of your actions. Kids don't project that smoking today can lead to negative effects in their futures: increased risk of cancer, heart attack, and stroke in adulthood.

Many kids think they'll just try one cigarette or two or three. These young smokers believe that they'll be able to control their habit over time. Young people may experiment with cigars and chewing tobacco, which are also dangerous. Others try bidis, thinking they are a safe alternative to cigarettes.

Colorfully packaged with a variety of flavors like cinnamon, orange, and chocolate, these unfiltered cigarettes from India have 28 percent higher nicotine concentration than regular cigarettes.

There is good news - the number of teens who currently smoke has gradually declined since 1996. But there is also bad news - over 4 million youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are smokers. In fact, by the time they leave high school, more than one-third of graduates are active smokers.

Nicotine is a powerfully addictive drug. Once your teen is addicted, it will be very difficult to quit .

The cause of addiction is simple. Nicotine goes straight to the brain. The human brain has circuits that control feelings of pleasure. Dopamine - a brain chemical - contributes to the desire to consume drugs. Nicotine spikes an increase in dopamine.

When your teen smokes, he or she inhales the nicotine. It goes quickly to the brain. In just 10 seconds, the pleasurable effects of smoking reach peak levels. Within a few minutes, the pleasure is gone, and the craving for a cigarette begins a new cycle.

A teen can easily get hooked on nicotine, although it takes much more effort to quit. Many kids smokers, they find it hard to stay away from the drug's effects.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is concerned about teen nicotine addiction and is working to determine the best methods for helping adolescents quit. NIDA has opened a Teen Tobacco Addiction Treatment Research Center in Baltimore, MD, to find the best treatments for young smokers.

Currently, the Center is assessing the nicotine patch and nicotine gum to see how safe, tolerable, and effective they are for adolescents. The Center is also determining whether teens use these quitting aids properly. At the same time, researchers are trying to find out whether these therapies work better alone or in combination with counseling and group support.

Nicotine addiction is a disease. But it is preventable. NIDA continues to fund innovative research to find the most effective treatment and prevention approaches for adolescents.

In the meantime, not starting to smoke is the best form of prevention. Talk to your kids about the threat of smoking. With your guidance, maybe they won't light up.

For more information, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse's web site at or call the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686.

Hand holding lit cigarette - Caption It's Drug Addiction

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