Teens and the Great American Smokeout


Seven seconds.

It takes just seven seconds for nicotine to be absorbed into the brain from cigarettes.

That is faster absorption than from an IV injection.

How nicotine works so well.

When smoke is inhaled, because the lungs have a very large surface area, the nicotine is readily absorbed and goes straight to the brain. There it is taken up by cell surface receptors – those tiny mailboxes that take things from the outside to the inside of cells.

Just like buying a bigger mailbox to handle a larger amount of incoming mail, the brain creates more nicotine receptors to take care of the influx of nicotine, which mimics the function of a major neurotransmitter (acetylcholine). The brain uses the nicotine as if it were acetylcholine, and it then creates electrical signals everywhere in the brain, which then affect every area of brain function.

Because delivery of nicotine is so simple and powerful, and creates actual physical changes in the brain, it is more addictive than either heroine or cocaine.

Nicotine addiction is real.

There are two major parts of addiction to cigarettes: physical and mental/psychological. Both areas need to be addressed in order to break the hold of addiction.

The physical addiction shows up by the physical changes the brain makes in responding to nicotine. Remove nicotine, and suddenly the brain believes it is starved for its’ major neurotransmitter. Just as one starved for food will do anything to find some, the brain sends out powerful signals saying, “get me more!”

The mental/psychological addiction shows up in the peer pressure to smoke, the example of parents and teachers and others who smoke, and the “good feeling” stress response to smoking. Teens who smoke say that could quit any time, they just don’t want to quite yet. They’re invincible, they’ll quit later, and it really does help them deal with adolescent stresses in the moment.

The 20-minute turn around.

Twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes is how long it takes to begin the healing process. Twenty minutes after the last cigarette, the body begins to reverse the damage caused by the drugs (nicotine and others) inhaled, and healing begins.

How to help a teenager who smokes.

Teenagers seem to be well informed about the dangers of smoking. But many of them still smoke. They may be copying the example set by parents or other adults around them. They may be responding to peer pressure or trying to “look cool”. They may be using cigarettes to deal with the very real stresses in their lives. And they may further justify smoking by saying, “at least I’m not using other drugs!” Putting down a drug as addicting as cigarettes takes a level of self-awareness and determination that most teenagers don’t have on their own, and absolutely requires the active and supportive involvement of parents and others to be successful.

While educating teens about the health risks of smoking is important, its probably not enough to get them to put down cigarettes if they’ve already developed the addiction. Punishing them, using scare tactics, or isolating them from friends who smoke is unlikely to produce the desired result. What does work to help teenagers who smoke? Here are some suggestions.

  • Prevention is always the best defense against addiction. Have frequent conversations with your teenager about the power of nicotine addiction, and actively engage them in planning for the inevitable moment when they’ll be tempted (or even pressured) to try it.
  • If your teenager is already smoking, sit down and have a serious conversation together. Answer questions and mis-perceptions they may have about the dangers and the way nicotine and other drugs in cigarettes are affecting their brain and other parts of their body.
  • Rather than trying to impose your determined will on your teen who smokes, create a collaborative atmosphere. Find out when they’re most tempted to smoke. Role-play better responses when they’re offered a cigarette. Come up with healthier stress responses that make sense to your teenager.
  • Once your teenager agrees give up the addiction to cigarettes, be prepared for a rough ride for awhile. Prepare your teenager for the experience of withdrawal. Explain what is happening in their brain and body, and give plenty of grace for their moodiness or snappy attitudes.
  • Encourage healthy detox habits like drinking plenty of water and eating lots of fruits and vegetables. This will help your teenager’s body to recover much more quickly from the affects of smoking.
  • If you’re a parent who smokes, STOP! You will be the most powerful influence on your teenager’s ability and willingness to create a new healthy habit when you are willing to do whatever it takes to end your own addiction.
  • Get help. Individual responses to ending an addiction as powerful as to nicotine vary widely. Even teens who have not smoked long can experience intense withdrawal and may need more help than your support. Enlist the support of their doctor, peer group, and others.
  • Make a grand adventure out of this process of becoming a non-smoker. Remind them frequently that the physical screaming from a brain deprived of the drug only lasts about a minute at a time. It will get better quickly!
  • Finally, if they relapse, don’t let up on the encouragement to stop smoking. Teens have an especially difficult time sticking with their resolve to end a nicotine addiction. They don’t have the life experience of slogging through a tough time and getting to the other side. Give them your active encouragement!

There are numerous online resources available to help teenagers and young adults who have made the decision to become a non-smoker. Make use of them! Eighty percent of adults who smoke cigarettes began smoking before the age of 18. Today is the perfect day to become a proactive parent and help your teen stop smoking.

Your turn:

Where are you on the smoking subject? Current smoker wanting to quit? Frustrated parent of a smoking teenager? Smoking parent concerned that you won’t be able to quit yourself and that you’re setting the wrong example for your children? On your “never-smoked” soap box and not quite understanding the intense addiction of nicotine? Share your stories and struggles here so we can support each other!

If you would like some specific coaching through the process of helping your teenager quit smoking, send me a message and lets find a solution together! Remember that there is always hope!



About RJ

I'm passionate about HOPE! As a first year medical student, I spend most of my time studying like mad. Somehow I still find time to build a successful entrepreneurial venture that is helping to change lives. I also keep up with writing, make a few videos here and there, and hold as extra precious the time spent with friends and family. I'm thrilled to work with you as you create your own abundant health, wealth, and happiness.
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36 Responses to Teens and the Great American Smokeout

  1. Anja says:

    Hmm it appears like your website ate my first comment (it was
    super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any tips and hints for beginner blog writers? I’d genuinely appreciate
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    • RJ says:

      Anja, Oh Dear – sorry your first comment got eaten! I would have enjoyed reading it I’m sure!

      And, I’m so glad you’re enjoying reading my blog. I began several years ago, and although it took awhile to find my “voice”, I’m now dedicated to continuing reaching out to people through this site. As far as advice to beginning bloggers, the best I can say is just to begin. Take a look at your life – there are others out there searching for your insights, your direction, the lessons you’ve learned someone else is struggling with. If you’re a communicator in person, find a way to write the way you think and speak. Your gift of who you are is priceless!

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  3. Very interesting subject, regards for posting.

  4. Thank you for a very informative and great article, Ronae. I will definitely be sharing the 20-Minute Turn Around with some of my loved ones.

  5. Kelly says:

    Actually, the moment I made up my mind I was never going to smoke started much younger. I was about 9. My mom used to have a glass of whiskey and smoke a couple of cigarettes every Friday night when my dad was “working late”. This is the only time I saw her smoke, but the smell really bothered me. I asked her to put it out and she said no – it was my problem if I didn’t like it. I vowed to myself I would never be that inconsiderate! The image my dad left me pretty much cemented it.

    When I got into junior high, a lot of the kids tried to get me to smoke pot – but since pot was too much like cigarettes, I said no. Then they would try to push it on me harder or not be friends with me anymore when I refused. This only pissed me off and strengthened my resolve!

  6. Kelly says:

    When I was 13 my dad took me to visit an old neighbor of his. She was a wreck! She had just been given the news that she had less than 3 months to live due to cancer. Her husband was in the hospital getting the 2nd leg chopped off and was in shock and couldn’t even recognize her – also due to cigarettes. The whole time she was telling us her story, she constantly had a lit cigarette in her hand – that she would raise her shaking hand to lips and take a nice long drag every 30 seconds or so. That image burned in my brain and I never smoked a cigarette. I also never tried pot, or illegal drugs of any kind – and I went through the L.A. school system in the 70′s and 80s! Often I felt like the only one NOT doing it!

    • RJ says:


      You may well have been the only one NOT doing drugs and smoking cigarettes during the 70s and 80s in the LA school system, but super kudos to you (and your dad) for finding something that worked.


  7. Cigarette smoking is so hard to stop… one of the hardest habits I ever had to break. I love that you brought education and support tips into you article. Anyone who smokes will really want to have to quit for their own reasons. But it can be done! I’ll celebrate five years in January.

  8. I think it’s probably easier said than done, but working together with your teen in a collaborative, supportive & encouraging environment is very important; And I’m glad you made this clear in your post. I believe the relationship you have with your kid is key for them to accept your support. Great post.

  9. Solvita says:

    Thank you Ronae for providing these important facts. I never smoked myself, I probably have been inhaling smoke due to other people smoking though. I am not sure why, but I had such a strong voice within me to keep me away, even though I had my friends smoking when I was a teenager and older. Well it paid off as I didn’t have to deal with quitting, which I can’t even imagine … how difficult it must be.

  10. Wow, I had not heard of the “20 Minute Turn Around” before Ronae!! That is a wonderful fact to focus on! As our kids were going through their teen years we would role play all the time, I think it is a great way to instil the power of ‘choice’ and gives the opportunity to explore the consequences of any given choice made. Did they get it right every time… no :) But they were well equipped, and when they did blow it, we were always there for them to help them through. I appreciate your work and passion Ronae.

    • RJ says:

      Deborah, I knew the body began rebuilding from the damage caused by cigarettes quickly, but until researching for this article I wasn’t aware just how quick it was either. The human body is an amazing thing!

      I’m so glad to hear you used role playing with your teens. Probably the most encouraging thing you say is, “…when they did blow it, we were always there for them to help them through.” So many parents forget that part of adolescence is fall down and getting back up – exactly like it was when the toddler was beginning to walk. Kudos to you for creating a place of safety for your kids to grow from those experiences!


  11. Edmund Lee says:

    I’m blessed that I never went down that route of smoking. I’ve seen people around me smoke and never gave into the temptation.

    At the same time, I’ve seen people struggle with overcoming the addiction and you’re right, there is a physical and mental/psychological aspect to it. As a health conscious individual, those tips you provided sound solid. However, it’s easier said than done without ever truly understanding what they are going through during the withdrawal process.

    • RJ says:

      Edmund, I appreciate your perspective. As someone who has been immersed in a recovery lifestyle for more than two decades, I sometimes forget how confusing it can be to watch someone struggle with addiction. Probably the greatest gift I received when I was brand new in recovery was from someone who did NOT understand my struggle, and chose to be actively involved in supporting me anyway. She would tell me, “I don’t know from the inside what this feels like, but I’m a human being and have overcome my own issues. I’m here for you, as much as you’ll let me be.” Her attitude went far to giving me permission to be a human being – a category I wasn’t sure I belonged in for a really long time!


  12. I was 13 when I started smoking cigarettes. I was alcoholic too. It’s a disease called “Addiction”. But I’ve realized that it’s a harmful habit so I’ve decided to stop doing it. I want to become a good example to my 2 year-old son.

    • RJ says:

      Wow Christopher, super kudos to you for making that all important choice to move toward personal recovery! Toddlers can be a great wake up call can’t they?! When it gets tough (and it will), come back here, or shoot me an email. You’ve started on the road of really living! Remember that if you fall down, that does NOT mean you’re off the road. Stand back up and resume your journey. It gets better!


  13. Marie says:

    Great information. I have also been told that because of their developing brains, teens become addicted much more quickly and deeply to nicotine than do adults.

    Thankfully, I have never smoked, nor has my husband and our children are well aware of the dangers and downsides of tobacco–in all forms.

    There is no benefit to smoking and it is no less harmful to a teen’s health than any other drug–it just acts more slowly and less obviously than some of the other drugs.

  14. I am so grateful that I never took up the smoking habit. My dad smoked and so did lots of my uncles, cousins, and friends growing up. It is not only unhealthy, expensive and inconvenient it does not appeal to the senses unless your a smoker. Helping a teen deal with this habit at an age when they are more concerned with fitting in with friends than long term healthy habits is difficult so thank you for this article. We forget sometimes what its like being a teen.

  15. Being a mom of two teens, a tween and a preschooler I really appreciate this post. I worry about my children in school around bad influences, peer pressure the list goes on. My daughter has friends who smoke and I’m so thankful it’s something that turns her off! She can’t stand it. I’ll share this article. Smoking is such an easy habit to pick up but, a hard one to break!

    We live in a smoke-free household, I pray it stays that way!

  16. Mary Kate says:

    Great article! Referring several of my friends with teens to your site to check it out!

    • RJ says:

      Thank you Mary Kate:-) Glad you stopped by, and grateful for your referrals. Have you considered becoming an Affiliate (link on the footer)?


  17. Lorii Abela says:

    As always, addiction is addiction no matter what it is may it be cigarettes or any other. May today’s teenagers realize that smoking is bad for the health and that they should take care of it.

    Thank you for sharing this article!

  18. Addiction is addiction and yes, we need to do everything we can do to help children realize the consequences of smoking. My hope and prayer that students today will realize just how harmful any kind of addiction can be. Thanks for sharing this great post!

  19. Both of my parents smoked, I started at age 14 and have tried to quit so many times. Both of my husbands parents smoked. He’s also tried to quit. Sure…he and I are total hypocrites since we monitor any habits they may pick up on. Luckily the oldest doesn’t smoke & our two teenagers are still showing disgust for the habit.

    Teen sex, teen drugs, teen abortions, teen drinking, teen driving..some are worse than others, but inhaling anything into your lungs is stupid. So if any of my kids are doing any of the above, they’re in sooooo much trouble!

    One of these days I’ll get it right and quit. I just wish I still didn’t enjoy it…

    I’m gonna guess that you can probably figure out why I started.


    • RJ says:

      Sharon, thank you for your comment. Bottom line is, smoking works. If it didn’t no one would ever do it! It helps ground you, calms the internal panic, comforts your heart. All those things (as you know) pass quickly and don’t help long term. And the downside is pretty awful. But yes, I completely understand the “why”.

      That being said, one of these days you’re not going to ‘have to’ anymore, and you’ll find that courage to go through the few days/weeks of discomfort to quit. Til then, hugs my friend. Part of being a parent is being open about what we struggle with in the hopes that our kids will get it better!


  20. Beth says:

    I had my first cigarette in middle school but didn’t start into it heavily until high school when I could get away from the house more. My first husband smoked but ended up dipping more, so that gave me an excuse to continue. I always stopped for a couple months but then met someone new who did, so I’d start up again. When I met my current husband I was on my non-smoking cycle. He said “no” to it and now I’m officially an ex-smoker! I’m finding that it is becoming more and more “uncool” and I’m grateful for that. Here’s to will-power and high self-asteem for all our children!

    • RJ says:

      Beth, yay you for remaining an “ex-smoker”! My hat is off to you. And yes, it does help alot that it is becoming less cool to be a smoker. Remember its not just about will-power. Its also about the physical hold that the physical addiction has on smokers’ brains. So when you meet a smoker who says he’d like to quit, reach out your hand. You have a powerful story to share!


  21. I have to apologise, since I didn’t ment to offend you in any way. Like I said , I agree with the fact that smoking is a dangerous habbit but you have to admit that maybe we should spend more energy trying to prevent some other kind of addictions that could threaten teenagers .

    • Interesting perspective. I can see your point of view. My guess is that you haven’t experienced a smoking addiction…or maybe you are a smoker and don’t see it as a problem. In any case, considering the miles-long evidence of physical damage that smoking causes why would you believe this is ‘no big deal’ for our kids? The earlier a CHILD starts smoking (or drinking or anything else) the longer they’ll struggle with addiction. As an addiction Recovery Coach I meet with adults all the time who deeply regret starting this habits as teens!!

  22. Yes, smoking is a harmfull habbit and nicotine addiction is a serious matter but nowadays, smoking is really the least dangerous thing teens tend to get into.

    • RJ says:

      Yes Mr. Cleary, I edited your comment. I went to your website and found your name, because I believe in being transparent and decided to help you “own” your comment.

      I nearly deleted it, then decided to go ahead and approve it. Your comment highlights one of the reasons attorneys have a really bad reputation. It is narrow minded and disrespectful. I’m guessing you won’t understand that. But since you’re the one who said it (mis-spellings and all), I’m guessing you don’t have quite enough self-respect to spare any for the teenagers stuck in addiction who are suffering along with their families.


  23. Denny Coates says:

    GREAT ARTICLE! My youngest son, now 41, began smoking as a teenager. He has tried to quit several times but hasn’t been able to do it. I’ve already used up all the “Dad” capital I have to give him input and help. It’s an awful addiction.

    • RJ says:

      Denny, you are so right about cigarettes being a terrible addiction. Here’s HOPE that one day your son will be ready to go through the process of quitting, and will turn to you for some support!


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