Tobacco use produces significant health problems in teens, including an increase in the number and severity of respiratory illnesses, like asthma and bronchitis, and decreased physical fitness. Tobacco use also increases the risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and other health problems later in life. The first symptoms of nicotine dependence among 12- and 13-year-olds can appear within days to weeks after occasional use begins, often before the onset of daily smoking.
It is important to realize that kids are exposed to cigarettes from a very early age, so it's never too soon to start talking with them about the health dangers of smoking. Use any opportunity, such as movies that depict people smoking and tobacco-related situations you may see in your own neighborhood, to start the conversation about why it's important not to start smoking cigarettes or using other drugs. The following are a few tips to help your kids stay cigarette-free:
- Roll play with your fourth- through sixth-grader about what to do if someone offers him or her cigarettes or other drugs.
- Ask your seventh- through ninth-grader about what he or she knows about the dangers of smoking and using drugs and add to your child's knowledge on the subject.
- Focus on the more immediate consequences of smoking, such as bad breath; smelling like cigarettes; having dull skin and hair, and yellowed nails; and being out of shape and breathless.
- Continue to encourage your 10th- through 12th-grader for all the positive choices he or she makes.
- Know who your teen's friends are and if they smoke or drink.
- If your teen is looking for a job, encourage her to apply only at smoke-free workplaces.
- Encourage your teen to get involved in team sports where your teen may be more likely to meet friends who don't smoke.
- Make sure your child knows the rules (including no smoking) of your house and that you'll enforce them.
Remember: The most important thing is to continue anti-smoking, anti-drug use conversations as your child grows.
If your teen does start smoking, here are some tips to share to help her stop:
- Choose a "Quit Day" in the next two weeks.
- Use the Internet to find a reputable smoking-cessation site sponsored by credible sources, such as http://smokefree.gov of the National Cancer Institute.
- Ask your health care professional about treatment. A number of over-the-counter products that include self-help programs are available for people 18 and over. For younger teens, ask your doctor for advice.
- See if your school or community offers Teens Against Tobacco Use (T.A.T.U.), a program of the American Lung Association (http://www.lungusa.org).
- Consider enrolling in group or individual therapy aimed at smoking cessation.
Suggest to your teen to do one of the following when he or she feels like smoking when trying to quit:
- Go for a walk.
- Call a friend.
- Drink water or juice.
- Take a deep breath and count to five. Let your breath out slowly. Repeat five times.
- Tell yourself, "I can quit smoking."
Sources: National Women's Health Report, American Lung Association, Tobacco-Free Kids, Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
1400 Eye Street, NW, Suite 1200
Washington, DC 20005
Makes available fact sheets, research information and resources on how to help teens stop smoking, as well as prevent them from starting.
Office on Smoking and Health
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
A division of the CDC, this office provides online and print resources on tobacco research and quitting tips.
Presented by the National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc.