Just the Facts: Underage Tobacco Use

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What is tobacco?  Tobacco is an agricultural crop, most commonly used to make cigarettes. It is grown all over the world and supports a billion-dollar industry. The psychoactive ingredient is nicotine, a stimulant, but more than 4,000 other chemicals (2,000 of which are known to be poisonous) are present in cigarettes.

Tobacco is a nervous system stimulant that triggers complex biochemical and neurotransmitter disruptions. It elevates heart rate and blood pressure, constricts blood vessels, irritates lung tissue, and diminishes your ability to taste and smell.

Tobacco can be processed, dried, rolled and smoked as:

  • Cigarettes
  • Cigars
  • Bidis (thin, hand-rolled cigarettes imported from Southeast Asia)
  • Clove cigarettes
  • Kreteks (cigarettes imported from Indonesia that contain cloves and other additives).

Loose-leaf tobacco can be smoked in pipes and hookahs (an Asian smoking pipe with a long tube that passes through an urn of water).

The two most common forms of smokeless tobacco are chewing tobacco and snuff (finely ground tobacco placed between the gum and lip).

Defining the problem  

Some adolescents smoke because they believe it will help them be accepted by peers, appear mature, or cope with stress.


Children and teens are easy targets for the tobacco industry. They're often influenced by TV, movies, advertising, and by what their friends do and say. They don't realize what a struggle it can be to quit. And having cancer, emphysema, blindness, or impotence may not seem like real concerns. Children and teens don't think much about future health outcomes.

(Source CDC, Mayo Clinic)