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Straight talk about tobacco

What can you say if someone offers you cigarettes? Check out some suggestions. Want to quit? Learn more here.

You probably already know that smoking is a huge health risk — and that’s reason enough not to light up. But if you want even more inspiration, think about all the things you can do with the money you save if you don’t smoke. Also think about how smoking can wreck your good looks. It can turn your teeth and fingers yellow, and can cause wrinkles. Smoking also can make your clothes, breath, and hair smell bad (and you might not notice because you get used to it). Smoking won’t make you look cool, either. These days, lots of kids are saying that the really cool thing is to be healthy!

Why you shouldn't smoke arrow top

There are lots of reasons why someone might start smoking — maybe they see their parents smoke or they think it will help them relax or other people pressure them to do it. But there are so many more reasons not to smoke.

Check out a video that shows one great reason to avoid smoking. Then keep reading to learn more.

  • Smoking can cause painful, serious diseases like cancer and emphysema. It can really hurt many parts of your body, including your bones and your heart. Let’s face it: Smoking kills huge numbers of people.
  • The tobacco in cigarettes contains thousands of chemicals, including stuff that’s in batteries, rat poison, and car exhaust.
  • The nicotine in cigarettes reaches your brain in seconds. It makes you feel good at first, but in less than an hour the good feelings go away and you can start feeling nervous or moody.
  • You may think you’ll just try a few cigarettes. Tobacco is addictive, though, which means it can be very hard to stop once you start.
  • Smoking affects the vocal cords, which can ruin your voice.
  • Damage starts as soon as you smoke your first cigarette, no matter how young you are. Don’t think that smoking just a few cigarettes is OK.
  • The earlier a person starts smoking, the more likely they are to become addicted and to die from smoking-related illnesses like cancer.

How tobacco affects the body.

View a text-only version of the diagram.

Do you play sports? Are you a dancer? Do you sing or play an instrument? If you smoke, you won’t be able to do any of these things very well. For one, smokers have trouble breathing. They also can’t get as much oxygen to their muscles, so their muscles hurt more. And they can’t run as fast or as far.

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A healthy human lung and a lung damaged by smoking.

Smoking can destroy your lungs

Compare the smoker's lung to the healthy one. Many people think breast cancer is the most deadly cancer for women — not true! Each year, lung cancer kills more women than any other cancer.

(Photo courtesy of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH))

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"Light" cigarettes aren’t safe arrow top

Are “light” cigarettes safer than regular ones? No! Tobacco companies use smoking machines to measure tar and nicotine. But people don’t smoke cigarettes the way machines do. For example, people who smoke “light” cigarettes sometimes inhale more deeply, take longer puffs, or smoke extra cigarettes to handle their nicotine craving. They may inhale just as much tar, nicotine, and other chemicals as people who smoke regular cigarettes.

Smokeless (spit) tobacco isn’t safe either arrow top

Many people think smokeless tobacco (also known as dip, chew, or spit tobacco and snuff) is safe. Smokeless tobacco can cause bleeding gums (gum disease) and sores in the mouth that never heal. Eventually it could cause cancer in your mouth, your throat, and even your stomach! Just like cigarettes, it is addictive because it has nicotine. It stains your teeth a yellowish-brown color. It gives you bad breath. It can make you dizzy, give you the hiccups, and even make you throw up. (Definitely not cool!) Learn more about what dip and chew can do to your mouth, teeth, lips, and gums!

Hookahs can harm you arrow top

Middle Eastern men have smoked hookah pipes (also called waterpipes) for hundreds of years. Now, this form of smoking is becoming popular in the U.S., especially among young people. Hookahs are pipes that hold flavorings that are added right before lighting. Then the smoke is inhaled through a long hose. The pipe filters the tobacco through water, so advertisers claim it’s safer than cigarettes. This is not true. Hookah smoke contains not only nicotine but other poisons like carbon monoxide and tar. And the levels of these poisons in hookah smoke is as high as in cigarette smoke or even higher. Hookah smoking is also linked to nasty respiratory infections.

What about electronic cigarettes? arrow top

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, run on batteries and turn nicotine and other chemicals into vapor (steam) for inhaling. Here's some info you should know about e-cigarettes:

  • Nicotine is addictive no matter what form it comes in.
  • E-cigarettes may have harmful chemicals in them.
  • There's no proof that e-cigarettes help people quit smoking.
  • Smoking e-cigarettes may lead to trying regular cigarettes.

Being around others who are smoking hurts you, too arrow top

Even if you don’t smoke, you can develop problems from hanging out around other people who do. This is called secondhand smoke, and it can cause some of the same trouble for you as for the person who smokes. That’s why more and more cities and states are passing laws against smoking at work, in government buildings, and in restaurants and bars. Check out these good reasons to move away when others light up:

  • People who are around other people’s smoke have a greater chance of getting lung cancer than people who are not around smokers.
  • Secondhand smoke can cause your eyes to water and burn and can make you cough. It can hurt your heart and increase your chances of getting a cold. If you have asthma, it can trigger an asthma attack.
  • Others who smell smoke on your clothes might think you’re the one who has been smoking!

Don't smoke to lose weight arrow top

All the problems caused by smoking — getting sick, smelling bad, staining your teeth, wasting money — mean it’s not worth it to smoke for weight reasons. In fact, it’s definitely possible to quit smoking without gaining weight. And smoking isn’t a sure way to lose weight — plenty of smokers are not thin. There are lots better ways to deal with weight:

  • Munch on healthy foods like carrots instead of putting junk food or a cigarette in your mouth.
  • Try exercising to deal with stress, burn calories, and make your body feel good. (If you’re quitting smoking, exercise also may lessen withdrawal symptoms.) 
  • Focus on accepting your body. Maybe even write down what you like about it. Read more about body image.

Fast facts about tobacco arrow top

In some states it’s against the law for someone under 18 to buy or have tobacco products. If you are caught, you can get a ticket, you may have to pay a fine (over $200 in some states!), or you may be ordered to take a class to help you stop smoking.

Smoking does not relieve stress, sadness, or depression. It may make you feel good at the moment, but then it can increase upsetting feelings.

All types of tobacco and smoking are dangerous, including smoking marijuana. Snuff tobacco, chew, cigars, cigarillos, and flavored cigarettes all cause serious problems.

Rotten teeth.Smoking isn’t pretty. Just because movie stars smoke on screen, doesn't mean it's glamorous. In fact, it can make you look awful.

Social smoking is bad for you, too. Smoking only at parties is still dangerous. And people who only light up sometimes may be less likely to ever try to quit!

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Smoking is expensive!

Cigarette lying on top of money.Cigarettes can cost around $6.28 a pack. If you smoke 5 cigarettes a day, that's more than $570 a year. Think of all the cool things you could do with that money! Check out how much you save by not smoking.

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  Take a tobacco quiz arrow top

See how much you know about tobacco with these two quizzes.

What’s in a cigarette?

How much do you know about tobacco?


Content last reviewed May 18, 2010
Page last updated August 24, 2018