Young people and tobacco smoking

Smoking tobacco is harmful at any age, but young people can become addicted to nicotine very quickly. Find out about the risks to your health and read our tips for saying ‘no’ to smokes. Find out what you can do as a parent or teacher to support teenagers and young people.

What you need to know

If you start smoking as a young person, you can become addicted very quickly.

Evidence shows that most adult smokers started smoking when they were young.

If you smoke, you are exposing your body to lots of harmful chemicals, which can seriously impact your health.

After you quit smoking, a lot of good things happen to your body quickly.

There is no safe amount of smoking

The best thing you can do for your health is quit smoking.

There is also no safe amount of vaping.

Learn more about young people and vaping.

Smoking as a young person

Long-term adult smokers often began smoking as young people – 80% began before the age of 20.

Young people start smoking for different reasons:

  • to deal with stress
  • to fit in
  • peer pressure.

Many studies show young people get addicted to nicotine faster than adults. They also have stronger cravings, which makes it harder to quit.

Risks to your health

Tobacco smoke contains harmful chemicals – breathing in even small amounts can damage your body.

Even if you’re not smoking, being around your mates when they are smoking means you breathe in second-hand smoke. Often called passive smoking, this is also harmful to your body.

If you smoke at an early age you are more at risk of:

  • lung cancer
  • developing asthma
  • using alcohol and other drugs
  • developing heart disease and stroke later in life
  • dental problems.

Smoking can affect the way you look, including causing skin problems – such as psoriasis, dermatitis and wrinkles appearing as early as your 20s – and staining your teeth yellow. It can also give you bad breath.

Smoking can also reduce your physical fitness and ability to play sport and do other kinds of exercise. Smoking can affect your athletic performance by:

  • reducing your stamina so you can’t exercise as long
  • making it harder to breathe
  • making your heart work harder to keep your body going.

Learn more about how smoking affects your health.

How to reduce your risk

Saying ‘no’ to smoking might seem hard, especially if all your friends are doing it. But it’s the best thing for your health, and the people who are around you.

It may help to think about how you will say no before you’re offered a cigarette, or any tobacco product.

Tips that can help you be prepared include:

  • thinking about why you don’t want to smoke
  • telling your friends that you’re not interested
  • avoiding situations where you know there will be smoking
  • doing something else when your friends light up
  • spending time with friends who don’t smoke.

Laws on smoking and young people

Age limits

If you are under the age of 18, it’s illegal for anyone to sell or supply tobacco products to you. These include:

  • cigarettes and cigars
  • herbal cigarettes
  • loose tobacco
  • personal vaporisers.

Retailers can pay heavy fines if you’re underage, so you may be asked to show ID that proves you are at least 18 years old, such as a driver’s licence, proof of age card or passport.

Where you can smoke

Smoke-free laws apply to everyone, including young people, but they can differ by state or territory. In all states and territories, however, you cannot smoke in a car when a minor is inside – someone under the age of 16, 17 or 18 (depending on which state or territory you’re in).

Check our smoke-free laws for more information.

Help and support to quit smoking

If you’ve already started smoking, it’s not too late to quit. You will start to feel the benefits almost straight away.

Follow these steps to quit smoking.

Who you can talk to about quitting

If you need support or advice about smoking, you can contact:

Quitline

Contact Quitline for help to quit smoking and vaping. You can call the hotline on 13 QUIT (13 7848), to talk to a counsellor or request a callback. The Quitline offers an online chat service in some states and territories, and has resources for health professionals.

Kids Helpline

Kids Helpline provides a free, private and confidential phone and online counselling service for young people aged from 5 to 25. The service is available 24 hours a day from anywhere in Australia.

Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.

headspace

headspace is a mental health support service for young people and their families with a focus on early intervention. Young people aged between 12 and 25 experiencing mental health issues can contact them online or via the phone to access support services from 9 am to 1 am, 7 days a week.

ReachOut

Visit the ReachOut website for help and support on mental health issues for young people. Information is also available for parents and schools.

Supporting young people who smoke

For parents or carers

As a parent or carer, your attitude towards smoking has influence. Smoking rates for young people are higher where parents or older siblings smoke. Research shows, however, that even with parents who smoke, young people are less likely to smoke if their parents disapprove.

Things you can do

  • if you’re a smoker, set an example and quit smoking
  • start a conversation – instead of being angry, try to understand what’s motivating their smoking and be encouraging
  • help make a quit plan
  • introduce physical activity to quit smoking plans
  • use rewards to celebrate success – a trip to the movies for a smoke-free day, some new clothes for a smoke-free week.

Resources and information

Find more advice for parents on the Victorian Government’s website.

For schools

Smoking has been shown to affect mental health and thinking processes – reducing students’ ability to learn and perform. Coaches and teachers can have significant influence and help their students make positive choices.

Find resources for schools that will help support your students.

 

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