First, the facts: More than 416,000 kids were expected to become regular smokers this year, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Even more frightening: one third of all youth smokers will eventually die prematurely from their addiction.
If you have teenagers, you know how difficult it can be to control their behavior. They may be out exploring the world and testing their limits. Smoking cigarettes is something many kids want to try, often because it challenges authority and “looks cool” in movies and ads.
The truth is, once you’re hooked, smoking is a tough habit to break. And, as the statistics bear out, nicotine addiction can lead to fatal and debilitating diseases like emphysema and lung cancer. As a parent, you’ll need strategies early on to prevent your teens from smoking.
- Talk to your kids about the manipulation of media advertising. Explain to them how unglamorous cigarettes are. Smoking causes bad breath, stains on teeth and fingers and a lingering smell on clothes, all of which can be a big turn-off to friends and potential friends.
- Remind your teens of the effect smoking has on their health. It narrows blood vessels, puts added strain on the heart and wrecks lungs. Nicotine reduces available oxygen for muscles used during sports and lessens endurance.
- Give your kids reading materials about smoking from the American Cancer Society or your local health department. Scour the Internet for graphic photos of how smoke damages the lungs and other organs. (A good place to start is www.tobaccofreekids.org.)
- Walk your teens through your family tree. Let them know about friends or relatives who have died or been sick because they smoked. If you smoke, stop and don’t let anybody in your house smoke.
- Talk to your kids about resisting peer pressure. Praise them for having a mind of their own, especially if they are going against their friends’ viewpoints.
Above all, communicate, communicate, communicate. Start talking to your kids about smoking when they are young. Know whether your kids’ friends use tobacco and talk about ways to refuse it. Have regular family meetings so your kids know you will always listen to them.