The Solution to Smoking: Just Don’t Do It


While smoking is down for young adults, many college students still struggle with this harmful addiction. (ADRIANA BALSAMO-GALLINA/THE OBSERVER)


Most of us have been raised on the knowledge that smoking negatively impacts one’s health. In 1865, Washington Duke made the first commercial cigarettes, and since then people around the world have built up incredible resources and data through real-life cases about the harms smoking. These accounts make it clear that smoking will cause health issues and potentially shorten a person’s lifespan, among other side effects. But if smoking is so bad, why do people, especially high school and college students, do it? I sat down with Robert Madden, Ph.D, lecturer and biologist in Fordham University’s Department of Natural Sciences to speak about this issue and its impact on college students today.

“What the data on this shows is that the peak period for getting addicted to smoking is really [during] high school age, and that’s the main reason why the age for buying cigarettes was changed from 18 to 21 in New York City and some other areas of New York state,” Dr. Madden explained.

“If somebody hasn’t started smoking by the time they get through that period of time, they become much less likely to start smoking,” according to Dr. Madden.

The high school and college ages are most formative for young adults. When our brains are still trying to absorb information and developing new neuron connections, smoking can have a seriously negative impact on our growth and leave us with lifelong health issues. “There’s pretty much nothing good to be said of smoking,” Dr. Madden said. “The list of medical conditions associated with smoking has grown progressively over the last 50 years or so.”
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists a startlingly vast array of the effects of smoking cigarettes, including cardiovascular disease, increased risk of stroke, 12 different types of cancers and death.

Dr. Madden explained that “a lot of it, particularly with high school, is peer pressure.” He said that when attempting to deal with a big life change, such as moving to college, students will often turn to smoking in order to destress and to feel some control over their lives.

“[College students] tend to experiment with trying things that their parents discourage, so it’s an experimental age, and that can be a good thing if it’s channeled in a positive direction. Smoking is not one of the better ways to channel that,” he said.

While the percentage of smokers in America for young adults 18–24 has decreased from 42.4 percent in 1965 to 16.8 percent in 2014 (according to data from the CDC), it is still a lingering and highly addictive habit for college students in the United States. Young adults are feeling more pressure than ever to succeed and find their places in the increasingly-competitive workforce, and smoking seems to many like a good method for easing their stress. Smoking does release some stress due to the chemical reaction of nicotine within the human brain. But, while it may temporarily suppress frustration, stress and anxiety, nicotine is highly addictive. This, coupled with the more than 7,000 chemicals that are in each cigarette (at least 69 of which are cancer-causing) per the American Lung Association, makes smoking an extremely dangerous activity.

But what about e-cigarettes? Are they good for us, at least, compared to cigarettes?

“We don’t have a lot of data on e-cigarettes because they haven’t been around a long time,” Dr. Madden explained. “The popular opinion on this is that when someone is a smoker—which means that they’re subjecting themselves to all of the risks and adverse effects of smoking—switching to e-cigarettes is probably an improvement, as best we know, but it’s a low bar. It’s not a great recommendation.”

So, while e-cigarettes do not contain the 7,000 some chemicals that cigarettes do, they are still dangerous and, because they contain nicotine, are highly addictive. It is recommended to steer clear of both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes. But e-cigarettes may be a helpful first step for smoking addicts to stop smoking. Unfortunately, it may take 50 years before we know the e-cigarette’s true effects.

In terms of solutions for smoking addicts, nicotine patches, and support groups can all be helpful. But in choosing to smoke, a person is also choosing to be affected by the symptoms later in life, and these will rarely go away. By quitting, a person can prevent further damage, but it is impossible to return to how one’s body was before deciding to smoke.

What is Dr. Madden’s solution?

“The best thing is not to start.”