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How Nicotine Affects Teen Athletes

Young athletes of today are facing a harmful threat separate from torn ligaments, pulled muscles or bruised knees: nicotine addiction. Tobacco and nicotine have been engrained in professional sports culture for decades. From sponsorships and advertising to product placement, Big Tobacco has done everything they can to associate their deadly products with athletes and an active lifestyle.

This decades-long messaging tactic has left many kids and teens with the perception tobacco and nicotine aren’t a threat to athletic achievement and are sometimes seen as essential props of the athletic aesthetic. When it comes to athletic performance and achievement, nothing could be further from the truth. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances and has severe negative impacts on the body and mind — leading to struggles that can derail a teen’s athletic career before it even begins.

The Physical Toll

From decreased lung function and cardiovascular endurance to slow healing, nicotine has several cons for athletes. Vaping has been linked to seizures, lung injuries like popcorn lung and an increased susceptibility to lung infections. Studies show men who vape reported running slower and performing below the benchmark in several other exercises.

Smokeless tobacco — often associated with baseball, football and hockey — increases the risk of oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancers. For young athletes pushing their bodies to the limit, nicotine robs them of the capacity, stamina and recovery needed for long-term success.

The Mental Impact

We know how nicotine harms developing brains. Even a short amount of use can induce anxiety, depression, irritability and lead to difficulty concentrating. This has negative impacts on academic performance and can affect eligibility. An underdeveloped teenage brain exposed to nicotine can also lead to:

  • Learning difficulties
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Impulsivity

Tips for Parents and Coaches

Vaping, dipping, smoking and other forms of nicotine use are performance killers that have no place in young athletes’ lives. The culture Big Tobacco creates around sports is deep-rooted and will not be easy to overcome — many view the problem as “not a big deal.” However, when we all work together on the same team, we can save the lives and futures of the next generation. Because the worst thing your teen athlete should be worried about is a sprained ankle, not addiction.

Whether you’re a parent of a teen or spend your days coaching them, you are the last line of defense against nicotine addiction. Your influence, advice and guidance can help push them to peak performance, accolades and even scholarships.

Here’s how you can make a difference in the young lives around you:

Educate yourself.

Know the signs of teen nicotine use so you can intervene early. Mood swings, mouth sores, decreased physical performance, frequent respiratory issues and strange batteries and devices are all signs your athletes may be vaping.

Educate your young athletes.

Speak up about the health effects and harm of nicotine use whenever you can. It doesn’t have to be formal, scheduled or planned. If you’re a coach, hang posters in the locker room or in your office. Parents, bring up the risks whenever you get the chance at home or in the car.

Lead by example.

Teens view you as a role model. Living tobacco free encourages teens to make healthy decisions in their own lives. If you currently use tobacco, consider quitting. Resources like the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline provide FREE services that work with your life, schedule and budget.

Encourage conversations.

When teens see you as a trusted source, they are more likely to come to you for questions and guidance. Provide a judgment-free zone for teens struggling with addiction and be open to answering questions for teens curious about the side effects.

Provide resources.

If you know your teens are using tobacco, there are resources to help them quit. My Life, My Quit™ is a FREE, confidential service for teens ages 13 to 17 who want to quit vaping, smoking or dipping. Each teen gets quit help via TEXT, phone or online with trained staff. It’s easy! Teens can text 36072 to get started today.