Expert Addresses Lung Cancer and Youth Nicotine Use

New Brunswick, N.J. November 1, 2023 – According to the American Lung Association, every day, almost 2,500 children under 18 years of age try their first cigarette. Tobacco use is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, the second most common cancer in both men and women in the United States (not counting skin cancer). Monica Gilles, MAS, RRT, NCTTP, tobacco treatment coordinator at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health, shares information about youth tobacco use and the importance of quitting smoking for lung cancer prevention. 

Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. Research suggests that smoking causes lung cancer by creating cell mutations. Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals, many of which are carcinogens. Although the human body can often get rid of carcinogens, when it’s not able to do so, leftover carcinogens can cause the cells in the body to mutate, sometimes transforming into cancerous cells. 

Graphic image of lungs

Despite stricter regulations on tobacco products, the lure of smoking continues to entice young individuals. Cigarette smoking during childhood and adolescence causes significant health problems among young people, including an increase in the number and severity of respiratory illnesses, decreased physical fitness and potential effects on lung growth and function. Additionally:

  • People who start smoking at an early age are more likely to develop a severe addiction to nicotine than those who start at a later age 
  • More than 400 of them will become new, regular daily smokers
  •  Half of them will ultimately die from their habit 

E-cigarette/vape use also poses a significant health risk to young people in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), E-cigarettes, which are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol or mix of small particles in the air, usually contain nicotine and other harmful substances. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development. Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.

No matter your age or how long you’ve been smoking, quitting improves health both immediately and over the long term. The path to successfully quitting smoking is not easy, but it is possible. It usually involves a combination of counseling and support from professionals with expertise in smoking cessation along with medication treatment to reduce the urges to smoke. At Rutgers Cancer Institute, experts work with schools to educate the youth about the dangers of vaping. Parents should educate themselves on the facts about vaping/e-cigarettes and remain calm to have an open dialogue as they discuss the harms of vaping with their children.

The Tobacco Dependence Program supported by Rutgers Cancer Institute, the state’s leading cancer center and only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. The program is also supported by Screen NJ and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

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