Is smoking more dangerous for young people

Smoking in children and adolescents

1.8 million Austrians aged 15 and over smoke every day. Although tobacco consumption is only permitted from the age of 16, the average starting age is 14.4 years.

One in five young people smokes regularly, with the proportion of young women smokers on the rise. Compared to previous years, however, the overall share of cigarette consumption among adolescents is declining overall. Because tobacco consumption is also on the decline among adults, they are increasingly losing their negative role model effect. The restriction of smoking in pubs, public facilities, at work or in companies has also contributed to this.

Whether a young person who tries their first cigarette becomes a regular smoker depends heavily on their age. Only 4% started smoking in childhood (before the age of 13), around a quarter of those who smoke daily started their smoking career before the age of 15. More than half of male and female smokers started smoking before the age of 17.

Dangers of tobacco use

The earlier you start smoking and the longer you smoke, the more damaging the health effects. In addition, the risk of long-term damage increases with the number of cigarettes smoked.

Tobacco smoke contains more than 5,000 chemicals, around 30 of which are carcinogenic. On the one hand, the substances contained have a direct effect, on the other hand, indirectly via the immune system and via changes in the genetic make-up. Nicotine as a drug quickly leads to withdrawal symptoms.

Sequence of stages of tobacco consumption

When smoking the first cigarette, usually no pleasant psychological effects are experienced, but rather negative physical reactions such as dizziness and nausea. Nonetheless, first-time smokers can slip into addiction after a short time. The motives mentioned are often curiosity, the willingness to experiment or the desire to belong to a group.

Adolescents smoke repeatedly but irregularly. An important influencing factor here is the behavior of peers and the availability of tobacco products in the social environment (school, family, leisure activities). At the next level, cigarette consumption becomes a regular behavior. Many young people become addicted to cigarettes after just a few months and develop real addictive behavior.

Why do teenagers smoke?

Whether children and adolescents start smoking depends to a large extent on the people they interact with on a daily basis and how they deal with the issue of smoking.

Factors influencing smoking in adolescence:

Smoking parents are a high risk factor for adolescents: Children of nicotine-dependent parents are three times more likely to smoke than children of non-smoking parents.
If the parents do not smoke, there is an 88% probability that the children will also remain non-smokers.

Non-smokers tend to have very few friends who smoke, while 97% of friends of smokers also smoke.

While 50% of all students in vocational schools smoke regularly, it is only 10% in high schools. This is where the role model effect of the teacher comes into play.

  • Environment in which young people grow up

Children who grow up in an environment in which people smoke as a matter of course are particularly at risk of reaching for a cigarette later on. Even in early childhood, children are shaped to the effect that smoking is simply “part of it”. Parents, teachers, but also all other people who are in contact with children have a special role model effect here. In any case, the restriction of smoking in pubs, businesses and public facilities has contributed to a decrease in the smoking rate.

Secondhand smoke

Passive smoke endangers non-smokers as well as smokers. On the one hand, passive smoking poses a major health risk; on the other hand, tobacco residues stick to carpets, curtains, clothing and furniture and can still be detected weeks or months later. These in turn are released into the air and inhaled or - especially by small children who tend to put everything in their mouth - ingested directly. The only but very effective way to protect children from the harmful effects on their health is to eliminate tobacco smoke altogether.


  • High cigarette prices
  • Parental role model
  • Meaningful warnings on the cigarette packs
  • Uniform packs without branding
  • Ban on tobacco advertising
  • Smoking ban in pubs, businesses and public facilities
  • Repeated and clear addressing of the topic

The following video provides helpful tips on quitting smoking:

Stay informed with the newsletter from

Astrid Leitner
Medical review:
Univ. Doz. Ernest Groman
Editorial editing:
Nicole Kolisch

Updated on:

Grimshaw GM: Tobacco cessation interventions for young people. In: The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4) 2006.

Riedler J: Smoking prevention. In: The Salzburg Doctor (11) 2005.

More articles on the topic