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The Kid’s Doctor: Too many teens still ignore the hazards of smoking

During checkups for adolescents, I talk with each teen about smoking. While the rates of cigarette smoking among teens continue to drop, 20 percent of teens in the U.S. consider themselves regular smokers.

Added to that statistic is the fact that every day almost 3,900 young people under the age of 18 try their first cigarette.

Little do they know how addicting nicotine can be. Thirty percent of those teen smokers will continue smoking into adulthood.

Smoking carries many health hazards we all know about: It causes cancer, emphysema and heart disease, and shortens a person’s life by 10 to 15 years. But teens know these facts and continue to smoke.

What many need to be reminded of is that smoking also causes more immediate side effects, such as bad-breath, yellow fingernails and teeth, smoke smell on their hair and clothes, and premature aging of their skin. Such factors should resonate with image-conscious youth.

I just saw a study out of Australia in which teens tested a software program that showed them what they might look like in their 50s and 60s if they continued to smoke. A Canadian-based company has also developed face-aging software called April (for details, visit

The researchers conducted a randomized controlled study at eight pharmacy sites in Australia targeting young smokers. There were 160 participants (ages 18 to 30), 80 in a control group and 80 in the intervention group. The study was conducted over a six-month period.

Participants were asked to complete a baseline questionnaire. All received a self-care guide on smoking. For the intervention group, the researchers took pictures of all participants and downloaded them on a laptop, showing the subjects what they’d like as smokers or nonsmokers at age 55.

Those in the intervention group who saw the pictures were more than three times as likely to show less dependence on nicotine. Overall, one in seven smokers quit after viewing their photo-aged selves.

Knowing that one in five teens who smoke say they smoke 13 to 15 cigarettes a day, if this photo-aging software can dissuade them from smoking or to reduce their nicotine habit, it may be more effective than lectures on the hazards of smoking.

See related stories, Pages 8-10