Youth and Smoking

One of the primary concerns of the use of tobacco and nicotine products is the increasing popularity of these products amongst youth.

A Swiss study assessing the trends of use since 1986, showed that cigarette consumption among young people rose sharply in the mid-1980s. Since then, consumption has declined considerably up to 2014, yet since then have remained a relatively close level since then, with rates in 2018, at 8.7% for 15-year-olds who smoked at least once per week, yet still 5.6% of boys and 3.5% of girls smoked daily.

For the first time in Switzerland, figures on the consumption of other tobacco products such as ENDS and snus were also published for 2018. Amongst 15-year-olds, 50.9% of boys and 34.8% of girls stated to have used ENDS at least once in their lives, with the most frequently cited reason for using ENDS being a curiosity to try something new.

The use of snus was almost exclusively limited to 15-year-old boys with 13.1% having used the product at least once. For girls and younger age groups, this figure was less than 5% or lower.

Another multi-year Swiss study, published in 2020, conducted in the Canton of Zurich showed increasingly worrying results. Among 6- to 12-year-olds, 5% were already found to smoke once a week. Of the youth aged 16 to 17, 70% of girls and 60% of boys were found to smoke occasionally or regularly. Moreover, every fifth youth indicated that they smoked several times a week, or daily, with ENDS being the most popular method by far (73%). The popularity with shisha followed closely. In consideration of the high nicotine delivery in ENDS, it is clear that ENDS are putting numerous children at risk of developing an addiction to nicotine at very young ages and even acting as a gateway to conventional cigarette use.

Health Risks Amongst Youth

The effects of tobacco and nicotine products on the cognitive-behavioural balance of the user are serious. Studies on adolescent rats indicate that nicotine can induce permanent brain changes that lead to addiction. Brain changes in adolescent rat brains were also greater than those in exposed adult rats. Moreover, adolescent rats that have been exposed to nicotine have higher rates of nicotine self-administration as adults, which is consistent with the idea that early exposure to nicotine increases the severity of dependence later in life.

A review of recent literature showed that the consumption of tobacco and nicotine products induces free radicals, depletes antioxidant defence mechanisms, and increases markers of oxidative stress in neural cells, making it particularly toxic to the neurodevelopment of young children. Other studies show that nicotine consumption can worsen irritability, anxiety and impulsivity. More recent research also states that exposing developing adolescent brains to nicotine may derange the normal course of brain maturation. A key aspect of chronic adolescent nicotine exposure is the long-lasting neurochemical and behavioural changes that differ markedly from those in adulthood, and may include adverse effects such as attentional deficits, enhanced anxiety and fear, as well as having an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairment. Therefore, drugs containing nicotine have potentially severe consequences for teen addiction, cognition and emotional regulation.


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