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Teen Nicotine Addiction

Teen boy and girl smoking and vaping during the school day  

Nicotine and tobacco products have been around for hundreds of years. Tobacco plants have a history of use in the Americas for ceremonies, trade, and personal use. When Europeans arrived in the Americas, tobacco became an increasingly popular trade item. After reaching most of the world, tobacco became a major trade product by the 1700s.

Tobacco and nicotine addiction are nothing new since the products have been around for so long. It took human civilization an unfortunate amount of time to discover some of the dangers of tobacco use, but we are now in a position to make positive changes with the information available to us.

Despite the knowledge of the risks of tobacco, it remains a popular product throughout the world. Teenage nicotine use remains a concerning health challenge confronting many parents and medical experts.

What is Nicotine?

Nicotine is the active ingredient in tobacco leaves. Nicotine is a stimulant with very addictive properties. When someone uses nicotine, they feel the drive to use it again.

Nicotine is naturally found in tobacco leaves but can be isolated and put into other products like e-cigarettes and vapes. Other nicotine products like gum and patches are designed to help someone quit using tobacco products.

Teen tobacco use in 2019 is mostly in the form of e-cigarettes. Other examples of the most popular tobacco and nicotine products are:

  • Chewing tobacco
  • Cigarettes
  • Cigars
  • Vapes
  • Hookah
  • Nicotine gum
  • Nicotine patches
  • Snuff
  • Snus

As a stimulant, nicotine activates acetylcholine receptors on the surface of brain cells, causing a chemical cascade that ultimately gives a small increase in energy by quickening the heart rate and increasing blood pressure.

Nicotine vs. Tobacco

Tobacco is a leaf or plant material and nicotine is the addictive chemical in tobacco. Tobacco products can describe anything made from tobacco plants, like cigars, cigarettes or pipe tobacco.

Tobacco contains nicotine but also many other chemicals with different properties. For example, tobacco products are well-known to cause cancer, but nicotine itself is not a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). The other chemicals in tobacco are what cause cancer.

However, this does not mean nicotine is safe. It is both a stimulant and an addictive substance. As a stimulant, it may have long term effects on the heart and vasculature system. Its addictive properties compel people to keep using it.

Teen Nicotine Statistics

Most people who use tobacco products start doing so in their teenage years — 9 in 10 cigarette smokers started smoking by age 18, while 98 out of 100 smokers tried their first cigarette before age 26.

Each day in the United States, about 2000 people under the age of 18 try their first cigarette, and 300 of them start smoking cigarettes daily.

For many years, tobacco use was on a large decline amongst young people, owing in part to effective health campaigns that openly discussed the dangers of smoking. Cigarettes were effectively rebranded as an “unhealthy” and “gross” habit, causing teens to avoid smoking their first cigarette and lowering the number of new smokers for years.

E-cigarettes managed to avoid the “gross” and “unhealthy” labels for a few reasons. They are flavored, so they smell and taste good. Some people argue that they’re healthier than cigarettes. However, evidence and news stories are beginning to show that e-cigarettes may be just as, or more dangerous than regular cigarettes.

From 2017 to 2018, 1.5 million teens tried e-cigarettes. In 2011, 1 in 100 high schoolers reported e-cigarette use. In 2018, 20 in 100 (or 1 in 5) high schoolers reported using an e-cigarette.

Dangers of Nicotine Use

Using tobacco and nicotine products can cause many different side effects. Tobacco can cause the following side effects within 5 to 30 minutes of use:

  • Dizziness or trouble balancing
  • Fast, heavy breathing
  • Faster heartbeat
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Mouthwatering
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pale skin
  • Stomachache

Thirty minutes after use, a person may experience the following short-term effects of nicotine:

  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slower heartbeat
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness or slow muscles

People who regularly use nicotine will have developed a tolerance and may feel very few if any of the above side effects.

Long-term effects of nicotine use are:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Lung problems

Health conditions that fall within the above three categories are the biggest killers of people in the United States, tobacco is a major contributor.

Secondhand Smoke

The Centers or Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that there is no safe level of secondhand tobacco smoke. They estimate that 42,000 non-smokers die from diseases caused by secondhand smoke each year. The effects of secondhand smoke are very similar to smoking tobacco but to a lesser extent. Secondhand smoking is linked to heart disease, cancers and several lung problems.

Signs of Nicotine Addiction

Nicotine addiction in adults is easy to spot because they are not as motivated to hide it. Nicotine addiction in teens may be harder to spot, so look for signs of addiction, like:

  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Frequent coughing or illness
  • Smelling like tobacco smoke
  • Taking frequent breaks at work or school
  • Walking around with an empty bottle or “spitter”

Once someone is addicted to nicotine, they may exhibit withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit. People who quit tobacco products typically face the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Constipation
  • Cough
  • Cravings
  • Depression and mood symptoms
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Increased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating

Withdrawal symptoms are worse the first few days and weeks after quitting but can remain for several weeks, months or longer.

If you are concerned that your teenager struggles with nicotine addiction, contact Next Generation Village to speak with a representative about how professional addiction treatment can help. Take the first step toward a healthier future, call today.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Youth and Tobacco Use.” CDC, February 2019. Accessed September 21, 2019.

DrugBank. “Nicotine.” 2012. Accessed September 21, 2019.

NIDA for Teens. “Tobacco, Nicotine, & E-Cigarettes.” 2018. Accessed September 21, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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