Why do teenagers smoke?

All teenagers take stupid risks that they one day look back on and wonder what the heck they were thinking. But studies have found it is not because teens aren’t thinking about the risks involved—it’s because they think about them longer than adults.

Yes, that’s counter-intuitive. But think of it like this: If you are on a diet and see a piece of yummy chocolate cake, are you more likely to eat it if you just glance at it, remember you are trying to eat healthy, and walk away, or if you sit there and mull over the pros and cons of eating it? The latter, obviously.

It’s the same with the teen brain. Our brains take a lot longer to fully form than was previously thought. In teens, the frontal lobe (where our decision making happens) is not as connected to the rest of the brain as it is later in life. This means teens literally cannot come to a decision as fast as an adult. Teens take an average of 170 milliseconds longer to go over the consequences of a decision, which in turn makes them more likely to decide the risk is worth.


Teenagers may smoke because they think it's cool or their friends do it, Kids Health says. Friends can be very convincing at getting other friends to smoke. This may be particularly true when a girlfriend or boyfriend smokes, and the teen may feel threatened by losing the relationship if he or she doesn’t take up smoking.

Rebellion or Image

Teens see other teens smoking and they think it makes them look older or independent. Some teens may try smoking in an attempt to lose weight or feel better about themselves. Teens also have a need to experiment and smoking is often an available opportunity. Many teens are also bored and smoking is a way to seek out excitement, according to Irishhealth.com, Ireland’s independent health website.

Family Life

Teens sometimes start smoking just because their parents smoke, according to Kids Health. Discipline and setting rules are important for parents. Parents who make strong restrictions against smoking are more likely to have teens who do not smoke, or they tend to smoke less. They may be tempted to smoke, but will not do it around the home, thus reducing chances of becoming regular smokers

Youthful Naivete

Teens have a simple and trusting view of the world. They believe no harm will come to them, especially if it has to do with the distant future. They often assume that bad things happen to others. Heart disease or cancer does not normally happen to their friends. Their view may change if an older relative or neighbor suffers from a smoking-related illness.

Cultural Messages

Teens are often influenced by what they see on TV, in movies and through advertising. Smoking can be portrayed as pleasant or romantic. A 2008 survey of 3,415 German schoolchildren, published in the "American Journal of Preventive Medicine," found that youngsters with a lot of exposure to tobacco advertising were twice as likely to have tried smoking and three times more likely to have smoked within the previous month, according to News-Medical.Net.