The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Tobacco Use
By: Scott Johnson, Lamoille Family Center
Perhaps you’ve heard about the impact of trauma on long-term health. In Vermont and here in Lamoille Valley there is a lot of attention being paid to the set of childhood experiences that are directly linked to challenges later in life. These experiences, called Adverse Childhood Experiences (see the list below), or ACEs, are traumatic events that, if untreated, can have significant negative effects. The most common of these ACEs in Vermont are: divorce/separation, parental substance abuse or mental illness, and extreme economic insecurity.
What may surprise you is the link between these ACEs and tobacco use. The chart below shows the number of ACEs and their relationship to early smoking onset, adult smoking rates, and the lung disease known as COPD. Here are some important statistics about those connections.
- If you experience more than three ACEs you are more likely to use tobacco.
- 88% of Vermont smokers started before age 18.
- In Vermont, forty percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 who have experienced more than three ACEs are using tobacco. That’s more than twice the number of users in that age range who have fewer than three ACEs.
- Those individuals with four or more ACEs are 3x more likely to start smoking before age 18.
According to the Vermont Department of Health website, tobacco use is the NUMBER ONE preventable cause of death. In Vermont, smoking costs approximately $348 million in medical expenses and results in about 1,000 smoking-related deaths each year.
According to their own internal documents, tobacco companies try to attract new young smokers by targeting retail stores near schools and parks. (http://www.counterbalancevt.com)
According to the 2015 Youth Behavior Risk Survey, almost one-quarter of high school students in Lamoille County have reported using three different types of tobacco products: 27% tried electronic vapor products, 23% tried a flavored tobacco product, and 22% smoked a whole cigarette, with 11% of students reporting that they smoked within the past 30 days.
If we want to reduce the use of tobacco and improve health outcomes in our region we must do something to reduce exposure to those ACEs, or do more to help young people heal from the impact of those experiences before they start using tobacco. The annual focus on urging smokers to quit is called The Great American Smokeout, and it occurred last week on November 16th. Maybe some of you participated in this event, and remain tobacco free!
The community has an important role to play in reducing the likelihood our young people will choose to smoke. The links between smoking rates and adverse childhood experiences tell us that solutions lie in community-level efforts that support children, youth, and families. Research shows that the kind of help that makes a difference includes community-level activities that:
- Make sure all children are socially and emotionally supported, and
- Assure each family has two or more people who can offer concrete support in times of need.
As you may have heard, Healthy Lamoille Valley (HLV), our community prevention coalition, has regained tobacco prevention funding and is charged with addressing prevention of initiation of tobacco use among youth, eliminating exposure to second-hand smoke, and increasing tobacco-free policies in towns, public places, workplaces, and college campuses. If you want to get connected to our local efforts, including our reestablished HLV Tobacco Prevention Task Force, contact the HLV Policy and Community Outreach Coordinator, Alison Link at email@example.com. Check out the website at https://www.healthylamoillevalley.org/tobacco.
*ACEs include: mental illness, depression, or person with suicidal intentions in the home; drug addiction or alcoholic family member; parental discord – indicated by divorce, separation, abandonment; incarceration of any family member; witnessing domestic violence against the mother; child abuse (physical, sexual, emotional); child neglect (physical, emotional).
Scott Johnson is Executive Director of the Lamoille Family Center and has worked in Lamoille Valley in human services and education for nearly his entire career. The Family Center has served our community by encouraging, educating and celebrating children, youth and families for forty years.
Scott writes about early care and education, adolescent development and strengthening families that improve conditions of well-being.