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A person is obscured behind a thick cloud of smoke, with only their hand and a portion of their face partially visible. The smoke dominates the image, suggesting the act of smoking or vaping in an outdoor setting with foliage in the background, creating a sense of mystery or concealment.

Introduction

The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke can cause long term health problems. It is important to know what smoking does to your health so you can be fully informed and make your own decisions about whether you choose to smoke.


Effects of smoking

Lots of things can lead people to consider smoking. It’s important to know about how smoking impacts your health

People might choose to start smoking for different reasons, including:

  • Being pressured or wanting to fit in with friends.
  • To deal with stress and emotional troubles.
  • Or they may have seen their family or adults around them smoke.

Smoking of any kind (e-cigarettes, vapes, shisha, cigarettes, joints, pipes and others) has an impact on your body and mind.

Lungs aren’t adapted to inhale smoke and many chemicals added to smoking products are harmful, addictive and toxic for your body.

Vaping and E-cigarettes

E-cigarettes or vapes are battery-powered smoking devices that create vapour from heated liquids (sometimes known as vape ‘juices’ or oils, e-juice or vape liquid). Using an e-cigarette is often called ‘vaping’.

Vape aerosol is not water vapour. The main ingredient in vapes is propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine or glyercol. Vapes can contain the same harmful chemicals found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and bug spray – they just don’t put them on the pack.

Vapes come in a number of flavours such as blueberry or bubble-gum that make them appealing. Many vapes also contain nicotine, the same highly addictive substance found in tobacco cigarettes.

Many vapes contain nicotine making them addictive. Research suggests that young people can become more easily addicted to nicotine than adults.

Testing has shown that vapes labelled ‘nicotine-free’ often have high nicotine levels. People can think they are using nicotine-free vapes and can unknowingly quickly develop a nicotine addiction.

Get the facts about vaping here.

Just like cigarettes, selling vapes or e-liquids to people under 18 years of age is banned regardless of whether the product contains nicotine or not.

People over the age of 18 can get a valid prescription for nicotine vapes from a GP and can then purchase specified vapes at pharmacies or online. More information about obtaining a nicotine vaping prescription here.

To find out more about quitting:

  • Call Quitline on 13 78 48 for private and non-judgemental support on which methods would suit you best.
  • Go to iCanQuit, an interactive website that allows smokers to share their stories about their experience with quitting.
  • Or request a call back from iCanQuit who has Aboriginal and multi-lingual advisors.

Your Room and the NSW Health website have more information on e-cigarettes and vapes.

Shisha

Shisha tobacco is also dangerous for young people. Shisha tobacco contains nicotine, as well as many other chemicals, and is just as harmful to the body as cigarettes. People often unknowingly smoke much higher amounts of tobacco and nicotine through Shisha pipes. Find out more about Shisha at Shisha No Thanks.

How is smoking harmful?

It is important to look after your body. The damage caused by smoking at a young age can impact your life long-term. The chemicals in tobacco and other smoke can damage your body in many ways.

For example:

  • Nicotine is the addictive ingredient in tobacco and nicotine juices used in vapes. Research shows that young people become addicted to nicotine at a much faster rate than adults.
  • Nicotine narrows your veins and arteries. This can damage your heart by forcing it to work faster and harder and slow your blood, reducing oxygen to your feet and hands.
  • There are chemicals in cigarettes that cause inflammation in your body and impair the immune system.
  • Secondary smoke (other people breathing in the smoke) can cause the same harm to people around you. It’s important not to smoke around those most vulnerable, like children, babies, pregnant women and the elderly.
  • Smoking while pregnant increases the chance of development issues for the baby.

No Smokes has an interactive website that shows you how smoking impacts different parts of your body.

Learn more about smoking tobacco and nicotine and the impacts on your body at Your Room and the Alcohol and Other Drug Foundation website.

What’s the law on smoking?

If you are under 18 years old, it is illegal for anyone to sell you tobacco or e-cigarettes. It’s illegal to smoke (including e-cigarettes) in a car with a minor under the age of 16.

It’s illegal to smoke tobacco products or e-cigarettes in indoor and outdoor areas where smoking is banned (e.g. in workplaces, on public transport, in restaurants, near children’s play equipment).

Youth Law Australia and NSW Health have more information about the laws around smoking.

Quitting

No matter your age, smoking is dangerous to your health and can be hard to give up. It is easier to avoid tobacco all together than it is to quit later, once your body and mind have become dependent upon it.

If you decide you want to quit, consider these tips:

  • Think about the reasons you don’t want to smoke.
  • Be empowered by your own decision not to smoke.
  • If you’re worried about someone around you pressuring you to smoke, think about what you will say before you’re offered a cigarette. You could say something like ‘I just don’t feel like one right now.’
  • Support the other people around you to stop or reduce smoking.
  • Avoid situations where cigarettes might be around or offered.
  • Choose to do something else when others start smoking.
  • Practice quitting smoking. Not everybody can succeed the first time and that’s okay – pick yourself up and try again!

Quitting smoking can be hard, and you don’t have to do it alone. Here are some resources to help you quit smoking:

  • The Australian Government Department of Health has an app designed to help people quit
  • Quitline has councilors trained in supporting people to quit smoking
  • Be Smoke-Free has a planning platform to help people quit
  • No Smokes have interactive games, videos and a list of quitting resources directed at helping Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people to quit
  • Koori Quitline NSW have support services for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people to start their future without smokes
  • I Can Quit has resources to help you on your journey to quit for good
  • WellMob has cultural resources and support for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.

Frequently asked questions

Got more questions? We’ve got you covered. Here are some commonly asked queries about this topic to help you understand it better. Remember, no question is too small or too big – we’re here to help!

What are some common reasons people might start smoking?
Peer pressure, stress, and seeing family members or adults smoke.
Damage to lungs, addiction due to nicotine, heart issues, and a compromised immune system.
Vapes can contain harmful chemicals and nicotine, making them potentially harmful and addictive.
Selling tobacco or e-cigarettes to, or smoking in a car with a minor under 16 is illegal​.
There are resources and support systems available to help quit smoking, such as counseling or medication.
Passive smoking is inhaling tobacco smoke from the environment, which can also have harmful effects on health.
Seek support from healthcare professionals who can provide advice and resources for quitting.

Need emergency assistance?

As the peak body for young people and youth services in NSW, Youth Action does not provide direct referrals to support services. If you are in distress or require urgent assistance, the following support lines are available.

If there’s immediate risk of harm to yourself or other, please call:

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (Crisis & Suicide prevention support 24/7)

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636 (Mental health support 24/7) 

Link2Home: 1800 152 152 (For those experiencing homelessness 24/7)

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7)

ParentLine: 1300 1300 52 (9am to 9pm weekdays, 4pm to 9pm weekends)

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