Child and Teen Tobacco Use

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What parents and other concerned adults can do to keep kids tobacco free

Keep your kids from starting

Concerned parents may have more power over whether their children start using tobacco than they think they do. In a 2009 study, teens whose parents often talked to them about the dangers of smoking were about half as likely to smoke as those who didn’t have these discussions with their parents. This held true whether or not the parents were smokers themselves.

Here are some tips for parents to help them keep their kids tobacco-free:

  • Remember that despite the impact of movies, music, the internet, and peers, parents can be the greatest influence in their kids’ lives.
  • Talk with your children about the risks of tobacco use – studies have shown that this works! If loved ones suffer with or died from tobacco-related illnesses, let your kids know. Let them know, for instance, that tobacco use strains the heart, damages the lungs, and can cause a lot of other health problems, including cancer. Also mention what it can do to the way a person looks and smells: smoking makes hair and clothes stink, causes bad breath, and stains teeth and fingernails. Spit and smokeless tobacco cause bad breath, stained teeth, tooth decay, tooth loss, and bone loss in the jaw.
  • Start talking about tobacco use when your children are 5 or 6 years old and continue through their high school years. Many kids start using tobacco by age 11. And many are addicted by age 14.
  • Know if your kids’ friends use tobacco. Talk about ways to say “no” to tobacco.
  • Talk to your kids about the false glamorization of tobacco in the media, such as ads, movies, and magazines.

The children of parents who smoke are much more likely to smoke themselves. But even if you use tobacco, know that you can still influence your kids’ decisions. You might even have more power, because you’ve been there. Your best move, of course, is to quit. Meanwhile, don’t use tobacco around your children, don’t offer it to them, and don’t leave it where they can easily get it. You can speak to your child firsthand about:

  • How you got started and what you thought about it at the time
  • How hard it is to quit
  • How it has affected your health
  • What it costs you, financially and socially

If you can, keep your home smoke-free. Don’t smoke indoors and don’t let anyone else do it either. If you have a car or vehicle, make it smoke-free too.

Help your child quit

If your child has already started using tobacco, the CDC offers these suggestions to help them kick the habit:

  • Try to avoid threats and ultimatums. Find out why your child is smoking or using other forms of tobacco. Is he or she trying to get your attention or fit in with a peer group? You may find out that just going through the teen years is quite stressful to your child.
  • Show interest. Ask a few questions. Find out what changes can be made in his or her life to help your child quit using tobacco.
  • If you use tobacco, try to quit. If you did smoke or use other forms of tobacco and have already quit, tell your child what it was like for you. Personalize the little problems around tobacco use and the big challenge of quitting. Teens and pre-teens often believe they can quit whenever they want, but research shows most teens never do. Try to share these facts with them in a non-threatening way.
  • Support your child if they’re trying to quit. You and your child both might need to prepare for the mood swings and crankiness that can come with nicotine withdrawal. Offer your teen the 5 Ds to get through the tough times:
  • The craving will go away with time.
  • breath: Take a few calming deep breaths.
  • water: It will help flush out the chemicals.
  • something else: Find a new, healthy habit.
  • Talk about your thoughts and feelings.
  • Make a list with your teen or pre-teen of the reasons they want to quit. Refer to this list when your child is tempted.
  • Finally, reward your child when he or she quits. Plan something special for you to do together.

Helping your child quit using tobacco is one of the best parenting activities, ever. If you use tobacco, the second best thing may be quitting yourself.

Last Medical Review: 12/16/2014
Last Revised: 03/06/2015