Preventing Teens from Smoking Will Reduce Lung Disease Rates, Study Says - Virtua Article

Preventing Teens from Smoking Will Reduce Lung Disease Rates

By , MD , Pulmonologist—Virtua Pulmonary Medicine 

In July 2017, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law that bans the sale of tobacco products to anyone under age 21. The change, which is effective as of November 1, 2017, aims to reduce rates of lung cancer and smoking-related complications by deterring young people from taking up smoking

How early you start smoking matters

As a study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies notes, the age at which young people begin using tobacco (often called the “initiation age”) is a critical factor in determining whether they will become long-term, daily smokers. The study showed that 90 percent of daily smokers reported a first use of cigarettes before age 19, and all daily smokers reported first use before age 26.

Additionally, research shows that the brains of teens and young adults are especially vulnerable to the effects of nicotine. That’s because the part of the brain that controls decision-making, impulse control, sensation seeking and susceptibility to peer pressure still is developing.

By increasing the minimum legal age for tobacco sales to 21, New Jersey hopes to delay or prevent young people—especially those between the ages of 15 and 17—from exposure to tobacco through their slightly older peers. Researchers predict that high school students would be less likely to travel in the same social circles as people age 21 and older who can buy tobacco products legally.

Reducing death and disease rates

Researchers believe that as fewer young people take up smoking, we’ll see an eventual decline in death and incidence rates of lung cancer and serious smoking-related complications, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. These conditions typically develop after decades of smoking, so it will take at least 30 years to observe the effects of the increased minimum legal age to buy tobacco.

However, studies predict that the minimum legal age hike will result in immediate health improvements in the teen and young adult population, including:

It’s never too late to quit

Although many of the benefits of the increased minimum legal age will take decades to observe, it’s never too late for current smokers to quit. In addition to cutting your risk of developing lung cancer and other serious lung conditions, quitting smoking causes positive changes in your airways and lung tissue within days and weeks. Even if you're already suffering from a serious lung condition, quitting smoking now can prevent further lung damage, improve your health and even extend your life.

There are many options available to help you quit. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) helps to reduce the side effects of withdrawal by giving you a small, controlled amount of nicotine in the form of a patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler or nasal spray. Prescription medication also is available.

Many people choose to combine NRT or medication with support and counseling. You should work with your doctor to develop a plan to quit smoking and discuss what options might be best for you.

Get checked out

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. If you’re a former or current daily smoker, are older than age 55 or have other risk factors, your doctor may recommend lung cancer screening. Studies have shown that lung cancer screening can reduce the risk of lung cancer deaths in heavy smokers. 

Lung cancer screening uses a computed tomography (CT) scan to identify lung cancer in its earliest stages when it’s most treatable—and before it spreads to other areas of the body. Sometimes, lung cancer can be treated by performing a procedure called a resection, which removes a portion of the lung.

If you’ve never smoked, keep your lungs in tip-top shape by avoiding exposure to tobacco products. If you’re a current or former smoker, now is the time to take steps to improve your lung health.

Learn more about Virtua’s lung health programs including lung cancer screening. 

For an appointment with a Virtua pulmonologist, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3. 

Updated November 6, 2017

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