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Smoking and tobacco and young people

How smoking affects young people

Long-term adult smokers often began smoking as young people — 80% began before the age of 20.

Young people start smoking for different reasons:

  • to deal with stress
  • to fit in
  • peer pressure

Many studies show young people get addicted to nicotine faster than adults. They also have stronger cravings, which makes it harder to quit.

What are the risks?

Tobacco smoke contains harmful chemicals — breathing in even small amounts can damage your body.

Even if you’re not smoking, being around your mates when they are smoking means you breathe in second-hand smoke. Often called passive smoking, this is just as harmful to your body.

If you smoke at an early age you are more at risk of:

  • lung cancer
  • developing asthma
  • using alcohol and other drugs
  • reducing your physical fitness
  • developing heart disease and stroke later in life
  • dental problems

Learn more about how smoking affects your health.

How to reduce your risk

Saying ‘no’ to smoking might seem hard, especially if all your friends are doing it. But it’s the best thing for your health. Think about what you would say and do before you’re offered a cigarette, or any tobacco product.

Tips that can help you be prepared include:

  • thinking about why you don’t want to smoke
  • telling your friends that you’re not interested
  • avoiding situations where you know there will be smoking
  • doing something else when your friends light up
  • choosing friends who don’t smoke

Help to quit smoking

If you’ve already started smoking, it’s not too late to quit. You will start to feel the benefits almost straight away.

Follow these steps to quit smoking.

What laws apply?

Age limits

If you are under the age of 18, it’s illegal for anyone to sell or supply tobacco products to you. These include:

  • cigarettes and cigars
  • herbal cigarettes
  • loose tobacco
  • personal vaporisers

Retailers can pay heavy fines if you’re underage, so you may be asked to show ID that proves you are at least 18 years old, such as a driver’s licence, proof of age card or passport.

Where can I smoke?

Smoke-free laws apply to everyone, including young people, but they can differ by state or territory. In all states and territories, however, you cannot smoke in a car when a minor is inside — someone under the age of 16, 17 or 18 (depending on which state or territory you’re in).

Check our smoke-free laws for more information.

What can I do as a parent or carer?

As a parent or carer, your attitude towards smoking has influence. Smoking rates for young people are higher where parents or older siblings smoke. Research shows, however, that even with parents who smoke, young people are less likely to smoke if their parents disapprove.

Things you can do:

  • if you’re a smoker, set an example and quit smoking
  • start a conversation — instead of being angry, try to understand what’s motivating their smoking and be encouraging
  • help make a quit plan
  • use rewards to celebrate success — a trip to the movies for a smoke-free day, some new clothes for a smoke-free week

What do I need to know as a coach or teacher?

Smoking has been shown to affect mental health and thinking processes — reducing students’ ability to learn and perform. Coaches and teachers can have significant influence and help their students make positive choices.

Find resources for schools that will help support your students.

Resources

My QuitBuddy app

My QuitBuddy is an app that helps you get, and stay, smoke-free. It provides helpful tips and distractions to overcome cravings, tracking systems to chart your progress and the facts to help you understand the impact smoking has on your health.

Contacts

If you need support or advice about smoking, you can contact:

Quitline

Contact Quitline for help to quit smoking. You can call the hotline on 13 QUIT between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday, to talk to a counsellor or request a callback. They also offer an online chat service and have resources for health professionals. Visit their website for more information.

View contact

Kids Helpline contact

Kids Helpline provides a free, private and confidential phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25. The service is available 24 hours a day from anywhere in Australia.

View contact

Last updated: 
8 April 2019