Body Guilt And Shame Common Among Teens Who Smoke


Nx86xdrewssexybody-3Written by: Kirsten Cowart

We have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that teen smoking is down to 25% – this is down dramatically from 1987 when 40% of teens smoked. The bad news is that teens who smoke and don’t exercise have higher amounts of body guilt and shame.

There are many reasons why this is bad news for these teens. Not only are they struggling with peer pressure, hormones and growing up, but they are also struggling with low self-esteem.

When you are already feeling down about yourself, you are less likely to make healthy decisions such as exercising, eating healthy or quitting smoking.

Body Guilt And Shame Study

Concordia University recently published their results in the Preventative Medicine Reports. After surveying 1,017 teens – both smokers and nonsmokers around the ages of 16-17 – they found that body-related guilt and shame were the lowest among those who exercised regularly and had never smoked.

The study used the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines to measure how active the teens were. Those teens who exercised the most and avoided cigarettes reported feeling the most confident about their bodies, while those who smoked and reported that they were mostly inactive had much higher levels of body-related guilt.  

The Difference Between Guilt And Shame

“Guilt and shame are two distinct entities,” said researcher Erin O’Loughlin, from Concordia’s Independent Program (INDI) department.

Shame is tied to self-perception and self-esteem and reflects a negative evaluation of the self. Guilt has more to do with your actions and reflects a negative evaluation of a specific behaviour – in this case, smoking.

Guilt may elicit reparative action such as being physically active and it may be what is driving young smokers to get moving.”

It is important to understand the difference when working to help teens who struggle with smoking. Adding to their shame will not help in changing their behavior and may, in fact, make it much more difficult for them to quit smoking.  

However, if teens understand why they feel guilty about their bodies and how it is related to their smoking and exercise levels, then they may find the motivation to take steps towards change.  

Smoking Teen Boys And Muscle Bulk

In the study, it was found that most of the teen smokers were male. Out of those male smokers that did exercise, most said it was in order to bulk up.  

“The irony is that the smoking might actually hinder muscle gain,” says O’Loughlin. “Evidence has shown that smoking leads to more visceral fat in the stomach area.”

Smoking Teen Girls And Appetite Suppressant

Many teenage girls report that they are using tobacco to help suppress their appetite. What they don’t realize is that taking regular brisk walks will help reduce their cravings for cigarettes as well as help them stay at a healthy body weight.  

Smoking And Exercise

Even though teen smoking has dramatically dropped, it has since leveled out and doesn’t appear to be declining as much as it was before.

The researchers said that something that may help these teens is increasing their physical activity. Parents, teachers and health workers should help encourage more physical activity in teens as well.  

“Both the active smokers and active non-smokers in the study did about the same amount of physical activity – so teenagers shouldn’t be discouraged from exercise just because they happen to smoke. If they discover that it helps them reduce cigarette cravings, they are on the right track.”


Concordia University. “Teen smokers struggle with body-related shame, guilt: Exercise may provide a promising solution to prevention, cessation.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 August 2015. <>.

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Kirsten Campbell
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Kirsten Campbell

Kirsten Cowart is a writer and researcher that has worked in the spiritual, mental health and medical fields.Kirsten enjoys studying and experiencing the benefits of yoga, meditation, nutrition, herbalism, organic gardening and alternative health.She worked hard in 2014 losing over 40 lbs. and has since maintained a healthy lifestyle.Follow her to learn more about her journey on Twitter, Facebook & Youtube!
Kirsten Campbell
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