Want to prevent teen smoking? Understand why teens smoke and how to talk to your teen about cigarettes.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Teen smoking might begin innocently, but it can become a long-term problem. In fact, most adult smokers begin smoking as teenagers.
To help your teen avoid taking that first puff, follow these tips.
Teen smoking is more common among teens whose parents smoke. If you smoke, quit. The earlier you stop smoking, the less likely your teen is to become a smoker. Ask your doctor about ways to stop smoking.
In the meantime, don't smoke in the house, in the car or in front of your teen, and don't leave cigarettes where your teen might find them. Explain to your teen how unhappy you are with your smoking, how difficult it is to quit and that you'll keep trying until you stop smoking for good.
Teen smoking can be a form of rebellion or a way to fit in with a particular group of friends. Some teens begin smoking to control their weight. Others smoke to feel cool or independent.
Ask your teen how he or she feels about smoking and if any of your teen's friends smoke. Applaud your teen's good choices, and talk about the consequences of bad choices. You might also talk with your teen about how tobacco companies try to influence ideas about smoking — such as through advertisements or product placement in movies that create the perception that smoking is glamorous and more prevalent than it really is.
You might feel as if your teen doesn't hear a word you say, but say it anyway. Tell your teen that smoking isn't allowed. Your disapproval will have more impact than you think. Teens whose parents set the firmest smoking restrictions tend to smoke less than do teens whose parents don't set smoking limits. The same goes for teens who feel close to their parents.
Remind your teen that smoking is dirty and smelly. Smoking gives you bad breath and wrinkles. Smoking makes your clothes, breath and hair smell, and it turns your teeth yellow. Smoking can leave you with a chronic cough and less energy for sports and other fun activities.
Smoking is expensive. Help your teen calculate the weekly, monthly or yearly cost of smoking a pack a day. You might compare the cost of smoking with that of electronic devices, clothes or other teen essentials.
Give your teen the tools he or she needs to refuse cigarettes. Rehearse how to handle tough social situations. It might be as simple as saying, "No thanks. I don't smoke."
Most teens believe occasional smoking won't cause them to become addicted and that, if they become regular smokers, they can stop smoking anytime they want. Teens, however, can become addicted with intermittent and relatively low levels of smoking. Remind your teen that most adult smokers start as teens. Once you're hooked, it's tough to quit.
Teens tend to assume that bad things happen only to other people. Most teens think cancer, heart attacks and strokes occur only in the abstract. Use loved ones, friends, neighbors or celebrities who've been ill as real-life examples.
Smokeless tobacco, clove cigarettes (kreteks) and candy-flavored cigarettes (bidis) are sometimes mistaken as less harmful or addictive than are traditional cigarettes. Teens also often think that water pipe (hookah) smoking is safe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kreteks, bidis and hookahs all carry health risks. Don't let your teen be fooled.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices designed to look like regular tobacco cigarettes. In an electronic cigarette, an atomizer heats a liquid containing nicotine, turning it into a vapor that can be inhaled and creating a vapor cloud that resembles cigarette smoke. Manufacturers claim that electronic cigarettes are a safe alternative to conventional cigarettes but there are safety concerns about potentially harmful chemicals being inhaled during use. Electronic cigarettes can get teens hooked on nicotine, too.
Research also suggests that teens who have used electronic cigarettes are more likely to try other forms of smoking within the following year than are those who have never used electronic cigarettes.
Take an active stance against teen smoking. Participate in local and school-sponsored smoking prevention campaigns. Support efforts to make public places smoke-free and increase taxes on tobacco products. Your actions can help reduce the odds that your teen will become a smoker.
If your teen has already started smoking, avoid threats and ultimatums. Instead, find out why your teen is smoking — and discuss ways to help your teen quit. Avoiding or stopping smoking is one of the best things your teen can do for a lifetime of good health.
Oct. 15, 2015
- What parents and other concerned adults can do to keep kids tobacco free. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/tobaccocancer/childandteentobaccouse/child-and-teen-tobacco-use-what-to-do. Accessed Sept. 23, 2015.
- Youth and tobacco use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/youth_data/tobacco_use/index.htm. Accessed Sept. 16, 2015.
- Waterpipes (hookahs). American Cancer Society. http://www.acscan.org/tobacco/regulation/. Accessed Sept. 23, 2015.
- DiFranza JR, et al. Symptoms of tobacco dependence after brief, intermittent use. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 2007;161:704.
- Child and teen tobacco use. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/tobaccocancer/childandteentobaccouse/index. Accessed Sept. 23, 2015.
- Gilman SE, et al. Parental smoking and adolescent smoking initiation: An intergenerational perspective on tobacco control. Pediatrics. 2009;123:e274.
- Ditre JW, et al. Associations between parental smoking restrictions and adolescent smoking. Nicotine and Tobacco Research. 2008;10:975.
- Wilson DB, et al. Parental smoking, closeness to parents, and youth smoking. American Journal of Health Behavior. 2007;31:261.
- Guide to quitting smoking. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/healthy/stayawayfromtobacco/guidetoquittingsmoking/index. Accessed Sept. 16, 2015.
- Teens like different forms of tobacco and nicotine. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/tobaccocancer/childandteentobaccouse/child-and-teen-tobacco-use-other-types. Accessed Sept. 23, 2015.
- How parents can protect their kids from becoming addicted smokers. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/facts_issues/fact_sheets/toll/tobacco_kids/harms/. Accessed Sept. 16, 2015.
- Facts for families: Tobacco and kids. http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Tobacco-And-Kids-068.aspx. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Accessed Sept. 23, 2015.
- Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm172906.htm. Accessed Sept. 18, 2015.
- Leventhal AM, et al. Association of electronic cigarette use with initiation of combustible tobacco product smoking in early adolescence. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2015;314:700.