Studies show 90 percent of adult smokers started when they were teenagers, and if present trends continue, 5 million teens will eventually die from a smoking-related disease. ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas sat down with seven teenagers to find out how they got hooked. The following is a transcript of the interview:
Elizabeth Vargas: What do you guys remember about how it felt the first time you smoked a cigarette?
Bobby: It was really strange because I remember my first cigarette, I didn't really cough. Or get sick. I didn't really like it that much.
Vargas: How many of you guys are starting to already feel the physical effects from smoking?
Amber: I know I am. In the morning -- boy -- whew! I try to tell you I will cough and cough. But then every, as soon as I wake up, as soon as I wake up, the first thing I do is grab a cigarette.
Vargas: You have asthma?
Vargas: And you're smoking how many cigarettes a day?
Jordan: More than a pack a day.
Vargas: Did it ever occur to you that maybe the asthma would be better if you didn't smoke?
Jordan: That occurs to me all the time and you don't, you have no idea how like stupid I feel. I definitely notice what you're talking about. When you wake up in the morning and you just can't breathe. Like your lungs are just shut.
Vargas: Why do kids continue to do it?
Bobby: Everything out there tells you not to do it. There's always a danger to it, but everyone says it's not gonna happen to me. And I'm in charge of my own life.
Vargas: Let me see a show of hands. How many of you guys really truly think you're addicted to nicotine, to smoking? [Five raise their hands.]
Alyssa: Yeah, I know I'm addicted. Everyday I say I want to quit and I can't. I can't because I get headaches from not smoking now.
Vargas: A lot of girls smoke to stay thin. Do you smoke to keep the weight off?
Teenage Girl: Um … during the summer, this past summer, I lost a lot of weight and it was through going to the gym, eating right and smoking. It kept me from going to get McDonald's, going, you know, all those fast food places.
Vargas: Statistics show if your parents smoke, kids are more likely to smoke. Does that ring true to you?
Jordan: Well for me it clearly has. There was a really long period of my life when I was completely against my mom smoking. I looked down at her for it. I was so disgusted by it. I'd throw my mom's cigarettes away.
Jacki: Yeah, I used to break my dad's cigarettes and hide his cigarettes from him. Then a few years later I ended up stealing them from him.
Vargas: How many of you here have somebody in your family who's been sick from smoking?
Samantha: Yeah, my great aunt smoked for like 60 years. And towards, you know, the end of her life when I went to visit her, you know she was on about five breathing machines and the sound was just something that was like a wake-up call for me. I was like, 'don't want to end up like this.'
Vargas: Amber, your mom has lung cancer doesn't she?
Amber: On one side of her lung she has like emphysema and then, like, on the other she has tumors and stuff. I don't know. I don't like to know a lot about it. I don't ask her about it.
Vargas: And she still smokes?
Amber: Yeah. She does.
Vargas: Doesn't that scare you ?
Amber: Yeah, it scares me.
Amber: I don't smoke a lot. I used to smoke a pack a day. I don't smoke near as much as I used to smoke. I've cut down like the pack that I have now, I've had for like three days.
Amber: It's not that easy.
Vargas: Why isn't it? Why can't you just say, "You know what, starting Monday that's it. No more cigarettes."
Amber: It's just not. You're just, you're like one more, one more, just one more.
Vargas: But was it seeing your Mom get sick from smoking that made you want to quit?
Amber: Yeah I losing my Mom over that you know just that wouldn't be good.
Vargas: Statistics show that if you guys all keep on smoking, none of you quit, three of you here will eventually die of some sort of smoking-related disorder.
Teenage Girl: I hope that's not me.
Vargas: I mean that's what, that's the statistics show. Does that scare you? [Silence] I mean there's only seven of you sitting here. Well that shut you guys up.
Samantha: There's a lot to think about.
Vargas: What would it take, what would it take to get you guys to quit right now?
Amber: Explain to me, like, how much damage it's done so far. And if I'm capable of getting cancer within ...
Alyssa: Next two months, next two years.
Vargas: So only if somebody said, "You might get sick and die from this pretty soon."
Vargas: Like next year.
Alyssa: I think that would scare me enough to make me stop.
Vargas: But nothing short of that?
Alyssa: Uh uh.
Jordan: There's a big separation between reality. Like we are all living like a slight delusion about how terrible it is for us. Because if we were really smart and seeing reality the way it really is, we should have stopped yesterday. Because it was easier to stop yesterday than it will be today.