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More teen smoking risks

A new study claims young people who smoke may already have artery damage. | AP Photo/AngelRowlings

A new study claims young people who smoke may already have artery damage. | AP Photo/Angela Rowlings

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In teenagers and those in their 20s, smoking has been shown to cause:

Gum disease

Tooth decay

Yellow staining of teeth and skin

Oral cancer



Shortness of breath

An increase in respiratory infections


Slower healing of wounds

A weaker immune system


A chronic cough

Bad breath




Source: Will County Health Department Tobacco Control and Prevention program manager Cindy Jackson

Updated: October 6, 2012 1:39PM

A new alarm has been sounded for teenagers who smoke.

Adolescent smokers, a recent study found, may already have artery damage, or atherosclerosis, from smoking. Also called, “hardening of the arteries,” atherosclerosis is not uncommon in adults. It can cause a slowing or blockage of blood to various parts of the body and can lead to heart attacks or strokes.

But according to The Swiss Study on Air Pollution and Lung and Heart Disease, this is the first evidence that smokers as young as teens can suffer the same damage to their blood vessels. The research was presented in August at the European Society of Cardiology.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Cindy Jackson, the Will County Health Department’s tobacco control and prevention program manager. “There is a long list of conditions smoking causes. It’s related to every kind of cancer, and it’s implicated in heart disease.”

The recent study was done on 351 children and young adults ages 8 to 20 who had been exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke or who smoked themselves.

The researchers used ultrasound carotid artery intima-media thickness, or CIMT, tests on their subjects, which can detect early atherosclerotic changes in the artery’s wall. They also took blood samples and tested for the presence of cardiovascular biomarkers, which are substances released into the blood when the heart is damaged or stressed.

What they found was a link between the young smokers and coronary artery disease.

Jackson said it’s just one more dangerous condition to add to the list.

Smoking in young people in their teens and 20s, she said, has already been proven to lead to everything from fatigue, tooth decay, headaches and shortness of breath to a weakened immune system, bronchitis, an increase in blood pressure, impotence and oral cancer.

Teens are more likely to become addicted to smoking, as well, she said, because the nicotine is absorbed faster into their bloodstreams.

Jackson said there is good news, though. Since Illinois enacted a ban on smoking in public places, the rate of teen smoking is on the decline. Will County, however, does have a higher rate of young people smoking than the state average.

“Especially in 10th and 12th grades,” she said, “the percentage is much higher than the state average.”

According to 2010 Illinois Department of Public Health statistics, 9.3 percent more 10th-graders in Will County smoke than the state average. Seniors in Will County high schools are 17.6 percent more likely to smoke than other Illinois teens their age.

What gets the teens to smoke, Jackson said, is still peer pressure, with a heavy added dose of suggestions from reality TV, movies, and magazines.

“For those teens who don’t smoke,” she advised, “don’t start. For those who do smoke, quit. You don’t have to do it on your own. There are programs to help you.”

Teens can get help quitting smoking by calling the Illinois Tobacco Quit Line, at 866-784-8937. Those 18 and older can get help through the Will County Health Department at, which will offer classes this fall and winter in Wilmington, Plainfield and Frankfort.

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