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Powerful Choices Podcast: Help Your Kids Say No to Smoking

September 2010

Colleen: Hello and welcome to the American Cancer Society’s Powerful Choices Podcast series, where you'll get the information you need to make everyday choices that can help you be healthy and stay well. I’m Colleen Doyle, the American Cancer Society’s director of nutrition and physical activity. Thanks so much for joining us.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr. Len Lichtenfeld is here with us today to talk about tobacco use among teens. Now, the good news in this area is that the number of younger Americans who smoke has been going down since 1990. The bad news: the rates of tobacco smoking among teenagers are still higher than those of adults. It’s estimated that about 1 in 4 kids age 12 or older are current tobacco users. Len, why is this such a big problem among teens?

Len: Colleen, it’s a problem because teens who smoke often turn into adults who smoke. Almost 90 percent of adults who are regular smokers started at or before the age of 19. Studies have shown that, for the most part, people who do not start using tobacco as teens never start using it. So cutting down on teenage smoking can greatly improve the health of our entire population.

And smoking isn’t the only problem facing teens. About 8% of high school students use smokeless tobacco – also known as spit, chew, and a variety of other names.. Some cigarette companies are marketing these products more heavily now that smoking is prohibited in so many places.


  • Every day, more than 3,500 people under the age of 18 try their first cigarette.
  • 1,100 of these will become regular, daily smokers.
  • One-third of these kids will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease.

Colleen: That’s right, Len. But we know that all forms of tobacco carry serious health risks. Smokeless tobacco use can cause cancers of the mouth and throat, as well as gum disease and nicotine addiction that could lead to smoking. Smoking, of course, can cause at least 15 types of cancer, as well as heart disease and stroke. It can also lead to more immediate health problems for kids such as lower lung capacity, frequent headaches, respiratory illnesses and reduced physical fitness.

Len: It is a huge problem, Colleen, but there is a lot parents can do to help keep their kids away from tobacco. Talking to them about risks of tobacco use – really sharing the information with them, rather than simply saying ‘no’ – can go a long way. And talk with your kids about ways to say ‘no’ when they are offered tobacco products by their friends. If you smoke yourself, try to quit.


  • Almost 3 out of 4 high school smokers have tried to quit and failed.
  • Studies show that 60% of high school smokers will still be smoking in 7 to 9 years.

Colleen: Here at the American Cancer Society, we provide a lot of resources for people who want to quit smoking, and information for parents to help them educate their kids about the dangers of smoking.

You can get this and lots of other information to help yourself and your family stay well and reduce your cancer risk, at cancer.org. Or call us any time at 1-800-227-2345. From all of us here at the American Cancer Society, thanks for watching.