Keeping Your 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. Research has shown that teens whose parents often talk with them about the dangers of smoking are about half as likely to smoke as those who don’t have these discussions with their parents. This holds true whether or not the parents are smokers themselves.

Here are some tips from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for parents to help 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. If loved ones have or died from tobacco-related illnesses, let your kids know. Let them know that using tobacco 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 can 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, 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, use these tips to help them quit:

  • 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?
  • 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. Both you and your child might need to prepare for the mood swings and crankiness that can come with nicotine withdrawal. Offer your child the 5 Ds to get through the tough times:
  • Delay: The craving will go away with time.
    Deep breath: Take a few calming deep breaths.
    Drink water: It will help flush out the chemicals.
    Do something else: Find a new, healthy habit.
    Discuss: Talk about your thoughts and feelings.
  • Help your child make a list 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.

More reasons to keep your kids away from tobacco

Research has shown that kids who use tobacco are far more likely to use alcohol and illegal drugs than are non-users. Cigarette smokers are also more likely to get into fights, carry weapons, attempt suicide, suffer from mental health problems such as depression, and engage in high-risk sexual behaviors.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that tobacco use causes these behaviors, just that they’re more common in teens who use tobacco. Other factors figure in as well. For example, teens who smoke and engage in other harmful behaviors are less likely to have supportive parents who are involved with their daily lives.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Butt AL, Anderson HA, Gates DJ. Parental influence and effects of pro-smoking media messages on adolescents in Oklahoma. J Okla State Med Assoc. 2009;102:147-151.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Calling It Quits (brochure). Accessed at www.cdc.gov/tobacco/tobacco_control_programs/campaigns_events/got_a_minute/got_A_Minute_brochure/callingitquits/index.htm on November 10, 2010. Content no longer available.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Information Sheet. You(th) & Tobacco. November 17, 2014. Accessed at www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/youth/information-sheet/index.htm on November 10, 2015.

Gilman SE, Rende R, Boergers J, et al. Parental smoking and adolescent smoking initiation: An intergenerational perspective on tobacco control. Pediatrics. 2009;123:e274-281.

US Department of Health and Human Service. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. September 2015. Accessed at www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf on November 10, 2015.

US Department of Health and Human Service. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. September 2014. Accessed at http://media.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2013SummNatFindDetTables/NationalFindings/NSDUHresults2013.htm on November 10, 2015.

Last Medical Review: November 13, 2015 Last Revised: November 13, 2015

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