Teen Smoking in Philadelphia

Cigarette smoking is a critical public health concern in the United States due to the increase in preventable diseases and mortality arising from this behavior. Even though it is known that cigarette smoking is addictive and harmful, teens continue engaging in this behavior. Therefore, research has focused on identifying factors influencing this practice among teens to design enhanced intervention programs. Therefore, it is hard to control teen smoking especially in schools where cigarettes are sold in the neighborhoods and peer pressure is high.

The Setting: Philadelphia

Philadelphia is the largest city in the state of Pennsylvania. Concerning smoking, this state does not have state tax on smokeless tobacco products and cigars, which explains relatively cheap pricing mechanism present in the city. Specifically, a pack of cigarettes retails at $6 in Philadelphia. This is one of the reasons why the city has the highest proportion of youth smokers who purchase their own cigarettes among all major cities (Philadelphia Department of Public Health 19). Additionally, Philadelphia has very weak City Code regarding illegal sales of tobacco products. Particularly, the city sends ‘code violation notice’ for non-compliance of illegal selling of tobacco products to youths (Philadelphia Department of Public Health 20). These violation notices are mailed to retailers even up to seven times. The regulations are ineffective in dealing with non-compliance to laws resulting in increased illegal sales of tobacco products among the teens; this is because the government is very reluctant to take any legal action against such violators. This makes this city most preferred by most cigarette retailers and companies because most of the regulations are ineffective or nothing is done to the law breakers. Such high density of retailers leads to the increase of smoking among the teens in the city due to availability and easy access to tobacco products. This paper therefore, seeks to establish the causes and effects of smoking among teenagers in Philadelphia.

Prevalence of Teen Smoking in Philadelphia

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in 2009, it was discovered that 7.3 percent of youth in the 9th and 12th grades in the United States had smoked cigarettes in a period of 20 days within a month (Philadelphia Department of Health 4). This a considerably high number compared to other states that have much lower numbers. Thus, in the situation when the cigarettes are easy to access, there is an increased teen’s possibility of engaging in regular smoking. These grim statistics demonstrates severe prevalence of teen smoking in Philadelphia. Hence, this is a course for alarm and, therefore, something should be done to curb this behavior.

 Causes of Teen Smoking

There are several factors contributing to the onset of smoking among teens including peer influence and parental influence. These factors are described in detail in the following sections.

Peer Influence

Peer influence is a major factor contributing to the high prevalence of smoking among teens. Peer influence involves behavior, attitudes and information of an individual being implicitly and explicitly affected by other people. Most young people, therefore, indulge in smoking because their friends are doing it. This pressure makes young people struggle to fit in by adopting common behaviors that certain groups of people have adapted; these behaviors may include alcohol abuse, smoking or sexual behaviors at a tender age. However, it is difficult to establish the exact relationship between peer pressure and smoking. However, most teenagers are prone to this kind of pressure in Philadelphia. For instance, some researchers discovered that smoking among peers was not a significant predictor of the onset of this behavior in a majority of the six European nations investigated (De Vries et al. 83). Instead, it was found that peer selection effects influenced onset of smoking among teens characterized by choosing friends who have this behavior. In some cases, smoking can be as a result of peer pressure because some teenagers adapt the behavior so that they can fit in these groups of already smoking teenagers. Specifically, a peer group creates unique code of ethics by establishing a sense of belonging, and creates control through determination of goals for the members. Therefore, conformity to established group standards leads to uniformity in behavior, opinions and attitudes among group members. The level of conformity relies on the extent of cohesion, and intensity and frequency of communications among group members. Consequently, modeling of behavior among the members becomes part of conformity to the standards of a peer group. It is suggested that teens have the tendency of emulating the behavior of peers with higher perceived status (Prinstein, and Dodge 9). Smoking among peers therefore, gives them some form of social status that other children would like to emulate. It gives one a sense of belonging and class that all other teens would want to acquire. Some researchers report that teen smokers use various strategies for inducing smoking among their peers including social ostracism, physical intimidation and persuasion (Lloyd, and Lucas 76-77). Peer selection and peer influence, therefore, highly interact in development of similarity in the smoking behavior among teens. This has made Philadelphia the leading state in teen smoking in the United States.

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Socio-Economic Status

Smoking is considered a past time activity among the economically disadvantaged children. They smoke to pass time and kill the boredom because they have no productive ways to spend time. Therefore, these children are feeling stressed out most of the time due to hard financial status that they are in. They experience hard times in school, at home, in relationships with their age mates and other situations that make them misfits. Similarly, those from high socioeconomic status with high disposable incomes can easily purchase cigarettes. This can explain the large ethnic disparities in smoking rates among teens in Philadelphia such that “white youth are much more likely to smoke (15.6%) than Latino (3.1%) or Black youth (1.2%)” (Philadelphia Department of Health 3). These statistics are reflective of the socioeconomic status of these ethnic groups, whereby White teens have more financial resources to purchase tobacco products compared to both Blacks and Hispanics youth. The financial status of a child is therefore, not strong determiner of smoking but together with other factors can lead to smoking. Children in either financial situation may opt to smoke. However, the social economic status of the environment that a child grows in can influence their smoking behavior. Social economic status of various ethnic groups predicts teen smoking variations.  

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On contrary, another investigation discovered that the likelihood of smoking increased among teens living in deprived neighborhoods (Diez Roux et al. 315). This is because in most cases in Philadelphia licensed tobacco retailers are located in the poor neighborhoods with people with low incomes. Therefore, neighborhood and ethnic socioeconomic status play an important role in smoking behavior among teens. 

Parental Influence

Parental influence plays a major role in the initiation of smoking among teens. Smoking among parents is related to initiation among teens. Parental smoking influences the behavior in teens through enhancing availability of cigarettes, verbal persuasion, modeling and the degree of parental power over the behavior of adolescents. Therefore, if there is parental approval of smoking, then the likelihood of smoking increases among teens. This is a critical aspect in shaping teens’ beliefs and attitudes concerning smoking. Parental smoking leads to initiation of this practice among teens through modeling such behavior. Empirically, it has been established that parental smoking is linked to initiation of smoking among teens. Specifically, a prospective study among children in the 3rd grade revealed a significant relationship between parental smoking and this behavior among teens (Peterson et al. 788).

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The media also plays a role in promoting smoking among teens. Smoking is a behavior that is easily adapted. This fact implies that initiation among teens is influenced by actions of their role models. Thus, media portrayal of cigarette smoking by role models during parties or in movies presents a misrepresented perception of the effects of this practice. Therefore, media influences tobacco use by directly endorsing beliefs and norms that support this behavior including distorted consensus regarding this practice. Particularly, teens watch movies with their peers that affect preference of stars such that young people emulate the behavior of these people (Sargent 348). Consequently, teens in a peer group may start smoking in order to idolize their star as depicted in the movie. Perhaps, the glamorous celebrity lifestyles depicted in magazines contributes to the onset of smoking among teens. Portrayal of smoking by the media directly affects smoking initiation and works together with family and peers influences to form teens’ behavior. Smoking rates are high among teens in Philadelphia such that ``nearly 11% smoked at some point in the prior 30 days (current infrequent smoking or experimental smoking), including 14.4% of 11th graders’’ (Philadelphia Department of Health 4). Magazines that link smoking with celebrities potentially reinforce smoking by creating distorted positive effects of this behavior. Indeed, a study found that there is a direct association between gossip, entertainment and fashion magazines with a higher likelihood of teen behavior formation

Access to Cigarettes

Increased access to tobacco products influences consumption among teens. The retail setting affects teen susceptibility to smoking via displaying and promoting tobacco products. In most cases, we find social settings’ concerning the acceptability to smoking encourages this type of behavior. Cigarettes unlike alcohol are sold freely to any person in retail joints without any form of restriction among teens. Even though there are regulations against selling of tobacco products to teens, commercial retailers violate these laws and act as suppliers to underage smokers. Teen smokers go to these stores in their neighborhoods to purchase tobacco products from retailers who flout regulations, which explain the high prevalence of smoking in Philadelphia.

Tobacco product outlets near school also provide access to cigarettes for teens. Often, these outlets have tobacco advertisement aimed at attracting teens to start smoking. For instance, a study was conducted in Miami with findings revealing that 74 percent of retailers near schools had more tobacco advertisements to target African Americans teens in low-income neighborhoods (Asumda, and Jordan 140). This type of advertisements increases teen susceptibility to smoking. Often, retailers are densely concentrated in neighborhoods with low socioeconomic status and target Hispanic and African American teens (Yu et al. 412). This is the case in Philadelphia where tobacco retailers are concentrated in neighborhoods with low median incomes. The high density of tobacco retailers in low socioeconomic neighborhoods targets those teens using cigarette smoking to escape the stressors in their daily live. A high density of tobacco retailers near schools contributes to the high prevalence of this practice among teens.

Effects of Smoking

The negative effects of smoking are countless. Nevertheless, cigarette smoking is more widespread. Recent statistics indicate that tobacco use led to 2,468 deaths in Philadelphia in 2007, accounting for 17 percent of all deaths in the city and exceeding the number of deaths due to homicide, suicide, accidents, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS combined. This number is alarmingly high and should be acted upon. Such statistics highlight the importance of reducing the high rates of smoking among teens in Philadelphia.

Many teenage smokers assume they are capable of giving up effortlessly, but end up realizing that they are addicted. Teenage smokers show abandonment symptoms as they try to quit smoking. Young teenage smokers below twelve years, in most cases, might have already made failed attempts to renounce smoking. After the development of addiction, a force to avoid distasteful withdrawal symptoms (Robinson, and Berridge 25) toughens the behavior of smoking. This enhances smoking among the youth, as they tend to smoke to avoid the negative effects of not smoking. Hence, this makes it difficult for the young smokers to stop smoking. Smoking therefore, is a very addictive behavior that should be looked at critically.

Absenteeism from school is also evident among teenagers who smoke as an outcome of ailments related to smoking. Additionally, suspension due to smoking is also related with absenteeism from school. This affects the academic performance of teens who engage in smoking behavior.


Philadelphia has ineffective institutional infrastructures that support teen smoking in the city. Specifically, the city does not have tax on tobacco products that lead to cheap prices for these commodities. This laxity in not found in other cities because most of them have implemented measures to curb this behavior. Additionally, there is a high density of retailers in the city in low-income neighborhoods and near schools, which increases availability and access of these products. These retailers are not governed by any rules and therefore, they break any form of laid down guidelines that control smoking among teens just to sell and make profits. Socioeconomic status influences smoking among teens by providing financial resources needed to purchase cigarettes. On the other hand the poor teens also indulge in smoking irrespective of their financial status.  Media, peer and parental influences contribute to this behavior by providing a supportive environment for smoking initiation that explains the high rates of experimental and regular smoking among teens. Finally, access to tobacco products is very easy in Philadelphia due to a high density of retailers and cheap prices of products, which complicate the problem. Smoking has negative effects on the health and educational goals of teens in children. For instance, smoking leads to death due to preventable diseases, and addiction problems. Furthermore, it negatively affects academic performance because of abseentism from school. All these factors taken together have led to high smoking habits among teens in Philadelphia. It is therefore essential that the government and other organizations come up with strategies that are meant to curb this behavior among children.



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