What we know about drug abuse evolves over time. This is true for smoking and tobacco addiction, too. We know much more now than we did 100, 40, or even 10 years ago. As we learn more about tobacco, smoking, and health, we continue to do more to prevent illness and death caused by tobacco.
Did you know there was a time when people didn't know that smoking cigarettes could be deadly? A long time ago, doctors even recommended that people smoke to cure other illnesses-check out the old advertisement below:
Looks pretty silly now. Today, no doctor who has gone to medical school would recommend smoking to their patients. Just the opposite: doctors, nurses, and teens like you are telling people not to smoke. Why? Because smoking "causes lung cancer heart disease, emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy"—and it says so right on the box! Every cigarette carton in the United States is required to warn against the health effects of smoking.
Different warnings appear on different cigarette packaging. While traveling in Europe recently, one of our bloggers snapped a picture of some cigarette cartons, each with its own saying. One of them said: "Smokers die younger." That's what you call truth in advertising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, smoking causes more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined! Check out more info for youth on CDC's website.
Here at NIDA, we know and understand what smoking looked like then and now. But, what gets us excited is applying what we've learned about tobacco and nicotine to help improve people's lives in the future. So, stay tuned to the Sara Bellum Blog—you never know what we, or one of your classmates, might discover.
Get this: There are more than one billion smokers on planet Earth. Yep, that’s a billion people around the world whose nicotine addiction is leading to high rates of cancer and emphysema, increased air pollution and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking causes more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined!
So what to do about it? For starters, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared May 31 as “World No Tobacco Day.” For this year’s theme, WHO is focusing on women and girls—who make up about 20% of all smokers worldwide. That’s more than 200 million women and girls who may not be getting all the facts!
But fortunately, the trend with teens is going in the right direction. The latest Monitoring the Future report of teens in 8th, 10th and 12th grades found that Cigarette smoking among U.S. teens is at its lowest point since the survey started in 1975. That’s a fact worth celebrating, since smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in this country, which means the best way to avoid these negative consequences is not to start.
Other trends are not so good, including the one showing that advertisers are targeting more girls outside the U.S., who may not know as much about the dangers of smoking.
Everyone can take a step toward making May 31 tobacco-free—in your family, your school, your community, or the world. If you or someone you love smokes, get the facts. The American Cancer Society is a good place to start, with a Guide to Quitting Smoking.
Make every day a No-Tobacco Day!
Many teens have questions about drugs. On Drug Facts Chat Day, NIDA scientists get to listen in and answer these questions from students all across the country.
Here’s one from “zippy do da” from Kingswood Middle School in New Hampshire:
Why do teens who smoke think they are so cool?
There could be many reasons why teens who smoke think they’re cool—maybe their friends smoke, maybe their parents told them not to smoke, maybe they think it gives them an edgy look, or a temporary high. But the truth is, as far as your health goes—smoking is so not cool.
And who defines cool anyway? What’s cool to one person may not be cool to another. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, coolness is an individual decision. Not everyone thinks that doing something illegal or unhealthy because your friends are doing it is cool. Lots of teens would say its cooler to hold a pen, paintbrush, or drum stick between your fingers, instead of a cigarette.
When our parents were younger, many of them thought “the Fonz” from the hit TV show Happy Days was the epitome of cool. Pretty dorky now.
Today it seems like a lot of teen smokers are figuring out that smoking is not very cool at all. How do we know? Because according to a 2007 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50% of all high school smokers are actively trying to quit. And, according to the recent NIDA-funded Monitoring the Future Study of 8th, 10th and 12th graders, smoking among American teens is at an all time low.
Coolness is a funny thing. Some things are cool one year (or one minute!), and not the next. Other things are cool no matter how much time has passed. What’s cool is also influenced by your gender, age, where you live, and, most of all, by who you are. Check out how one high school student examined the cool factor as a science fair project—it even won her a cool prize. But don’t take our word for it—you decide.
In September, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sponsored the first ever “Take Back” campaign, asking people to bring all their old and unused prescription drugs to law enforcement sites all over the country. The American public really responded and brought 121 TONS of drugs back to more than 4,000 sites! That’s a lot of unused drugs.
Now, on November 13th, the Partnership for a Drug Free America and its partners are sponsoring the American Medicine Chest Challenge--once again asking Americans to clean out their medicine cabinets and bring their old prescription drugs to sites listed on the Web site.
Why all the commotion about unused prescription drugs? Studies show that when teens take prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons (like trying to get “high”) they usually get them from family or friends. Taking drugs not prescribed for you--or taking prescribed drugs long after you really need them--can be dangerous. And mixing them with alcohol and other drugs can cause overdose and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, recently reported that in the last 10 years, the number of fatal overdoses involving pain medications more than tripled from 4,000 to 13,800 deaths, greater than heroin and cocaine combined.
So ask your parents to check out the family medicine cabinets for old or unused medicines---let them know they can bring them to sites in your own communities where they can be disposed of properly. By doing so, you can benefit the public health in two ways—getting more prescription drugs out of circulation and helping the environment, since flushing pills is not good for it. Photos from the DEA event can be found on the DEA Web site: http://www.justice.gov/dea/pubs/pressrel/pr100510.html
Smokeless tobacco is the latest nicotine-based product to drift into the marketplace and try to catch the attention of young people.
Snus pouches are a new version of snuff, or chewing tobacco laced with nicotine. Instead of putting a loose wad of tobacco inside the upper lip or between the cheek and gums, snus pouches look like small tea bags. These products are “spitless”, making their use easy to hide. Some tobacco companies even add flavors – like vanilla, peppermint, or spearmint – along with a sweetener.
These flavors are more likely to make the product appeal to young people.
Isn’t snus safer than cigarettes?
Snus has a similar effect on your brain, acting as a stimulant. Although it is marketed as an alternative to cigarettes, the little packets of wet tobacco are just as addictive. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health agencies have determined that smokeless tobacco products:
- Cause serious diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases of the mouth, gums, and teeth;
- May increase the risk of serious diseases when used in combination with smoking;
- Cause adverse reproductive effects and should not be used during pregnancy; and
- Are not a safe alternative to smoking.
So don’t let a clever name, fun packaging, or candy flavors fool you. By the way, here’s the un-fun part of the package, but that’s because it’s required by law:
Warning: This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.
Who’s using snus?
According to NIDA’s 2009 Monitoring the Future survey of teens (PDF, 1.34 MB), the use of smokeless tobacco is increasing significantly among 10th and 12th graders. The percentage of 12th graders reporting past-month smokeless tobacco use increased from 6.1 percent in 2006 to 8.4 percent in 2009, a 38 percent increase, while the percentage of 10th graders reporting smokeless tobacco use increased from 4.9 percent in 2004 to 6.5 percent in 2009, a 33 percent increase.
Have you ever wondered why you have to be 16 to get your driver’s license or 18 to vote or 21 to legally drink alcohol?
It’s partly because your brain is not ready to take on these responsibilities, since your brain is not fully developed when you’re a teen.
During the teen years, essential parts of the brain are still forming—like the prefrontal cortex, which allows people to weigh the pros and cons of situations instead of acting on impulse. This is one reason why teens are generally more likely to take risks than adults.
For example, with alcohol, teens may be less able to judge when to stop drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that each year, more than 4,600 alcohol-related deaths occur among those less than 21 years old—that is way too many.
Research shows that alcohol and other drugs change the brain’s structure and how it works in the short and long term. In the short term, drugs affect your brain’s judgment and decision-making abilities, while long-term use causes brain changes that can set people up for addiction and other problems. The brains of people who become addicted get altered so that drugs are now their top priority—and they will compulsively seek and use drugs even though doing so brings devastating consequences for their lives and for those who care about them.
Do yourself a favor and use your brain to make smart choices, reach your goals, and achieve your full potential in life.
Many U.S. Government agencies have Web sites to share information and resources with the public. Some help you find services you need—for instance, the Motor Vehicle Administration in your state helps you understand how to get your driver’s license. The CDC site helps your parents know what vaccines to get before they travel internationally. Some agencies, like NASA or the Smithsonian Institution, have upped the “cool factor” and designed contests, stories, games, and puzzles to entertain younger Web visitors. Other Government Web sites, like NIDA’s, are geared to help teens and their families understand health issues from a science perspective. Two of our favorite sites (besides the Sara Bellum Blog and NIDA for Teens, of course!) include:
- Above the Influence offers teen-focused, informative, and accurate drug- and alcohol-related info, not to mention a cool logo and tons of ways to get involved in helping friends and family learn the facts.
- Distraction is also geared to young people, with info about distracted driving and why you should avoid it.
Many Government agencies are designing their outreach efforts to do more than talk at you—they want feedback like comments on blogs, contest entries, photos, and more. In fact, SBB is asking for your feedback right now! What Government Web sites do you like? What do you like about them? Do you use them for anything besides school projects? And do you ever share your opinions on these types of Web sites? To answer the questions, you can either write your response in the “Leave a Reply” box below, or send us a message. We read all of your comments and feedback. Don’t forget that you can respond to questions we’ve asked before. As always, we look forward to hearing from you!
Every 9 ½ minutes: that's how often the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that someone in the U.S. gets infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In the next 10 minutes, someone will get HIV—and it could be your friend or someone in your family.
By the way, do you remember the word for thought in my earlier post? Comorbidity? Well, HIV is one of the many diseases that is "comorbid with" drug use. NIDA's "Learn the Link" campaign is all about how drug use can expose us to infection from HIV. When someone is using drugs, their decisions may not be well considered. They can have poor judgment and do risky things, like having unprotected sex. And that might mean getting infected with HIV.
According to the CDC, by the end of 2007, 3,230 adolescents 13 to 19 years old were reported to be living with AIDS in the United States and dependent areas (like Puerto Rico). And unfortunately, more people are getting infected all the time.
June 27 was National HIV Testing Day. Did you get tested?
This is a guest SBB post from NIDA intern Giselle.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is betting that young people have something powerful to say about smoking. Teens 13–17 years old and young adults 18–25 years old are invited to develop original videos that feature one or more of these findings from the recent Surgeon General’s report on tobacco use and young people:
- Cigarette smoking by teens and young adults immediately starts a series of health consequences that include addiction, lung problems, asthma, and heart disease.
- Advertising and promotional activities by tobacco companies influence adolescents and young adults to start and continue smoking.
- Use of tobacco products by teens and young adults shows signs of increasing after years of steady decline.
Submit a video by yourself or with a group of friends, and you could win up to $1,000!
Why You Should Submit a Video
Approximately 88 percent of adults who smoke cigarettes daily report that they started smoking before age 18. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable and premature death in America, killing more than 1,200 people every day. For every tobacco-related death, two new young people become regular smokers. To keep their companies in business, tobacco manufacturers need new people to pick up the habit. This contest is an opportunity to tell them and others why YOU won’t be one of them!
The deadline for submitting a video is April 20, 2012. Individuals or groups can submit videos in English or Spanish. All submissions must be made through Challenge.gov. Go there to learn more and submit your video for the tobacco contest. Grand prize winners in each of four categories will receive $1,000. Three runners-up in each category will receive $500. Find inspiration for your video by checking out these resources:
- Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General
- Past SBB blog posts on smoking and tobacco
- Facts on tobacco and nicotine addiction from NIDA for Teens
- Facts on tobacco and kids from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
- Tips on quitting from former smokers
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It’s a disease caused by the HIV virus, which breaks down the body’s immune system, or our natural defenses against disease. Without our immune system, our bodies cannot fight off illness.
HIV used to be thought of as a disease that happened only to injection drug users and gay men. That is not true. In fact, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control, heterosexual contact between men and women accounted for the second biggest chunk (31%) of all new HIV infections in 2006—more than twice the rate of infections among intravenous drug users. And guess which age group had the most new HIV infections? Young people ages 13-29. In particular, adolescents who have unprotected sex are putting themselves at increased risk of getting HIV.
NIDA research backs this up. It shows that teens like Kim and her friends who drink or use drugs may be putting themselves at a higher risk for contracting HIV, because being high or drunk can lead to having risky sex. To learn more about the link between HIV/AIDS and drug abuse, check out NIDA’s Learn the Link campaign, and get to know the facts on how our decisions, however small they may seem, can majorly affect our health.
HIV newly infects about 48,000 Americans every year, but one in five with the disease don’t even know they have it. That’s why today, on National HIV Testing Day, we encourage everyone to get tested—it’s the only way to know for sure if you have HIV. If you do have it, the sooner you find out, the sooner you can get treated.
Drugs + HIV
You probably know how injection drug use (with needles) can lead to HIV infection, but did you know that other kinds of drug use can also increase your odds of getting the disease?
When you use drugs or alcohol, you don’t have as much control over your emotions or your common sense. You could make risky decisions that could lead you into an unsafe sexual situation, putting you at risk for getting HIV or another STD.
Drugs + HIV > Learn the Link helps you understand how any drug use could put you at risk for contracting HIV. You might be interested in a series of Webisodes that tell the story of how unhealthy decisions made at a party change a teen’s life.
Know Your Status Many health centers and clinics offer free or low-cost HIV tests. Go to AIDS.gov to find one near you. And spread the word—when you take the test, you take control.
NIDA faces AIDS by continuing to explore the link between HIV/AIDS and drug abuse. Here are some facts we shared in a recent post that bear repeating on World AIDS Day.
- HIV is transmitted when an infected person's blood or other bodily fluid comes in contact with the blood, broken skin, or mucous membranes of someone who is not infected.
- Every nine and a half minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV, affecting people of every age, race, and creed. Even teens.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 50,000 young people 13 to 24 years old were living with the virus that causes AIDS in 2006, and nearly half didn't even know they had it.
- Using drugs and alcohol also puts people at risk for HIV/AIDS. That's because when someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, their judgment is impaired, and they're more likely to take risks they normally wouldn't, like having sex without protection. Since HIV is sexually transmitted, unprotected sex can lead to getting HIV or giving it to someone else. And since so many teens don't even know they have HIV, they can pass it on without even knowing.
Join NIDA and face AIDS by linking from your MySpace or Facebook profile to our Webisode series. Or, post a NIDA Web banner to your page. We also encourage you to participate in AIDS.gov's World AIDS Day 2009 activities. If you have a blog, please join the 300+ bloggers who are writing about HIV/AIDS today to help spread the message to your friends that there is a link between non-injection drugs and HIV.