Being Well

Teenage Smoking Can Be Prevented

Tobacco use increases your risk of a whole host of cancers, including lung cancer, mouth cancer, pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer and acute myeloid leukemia. Cancer is a scary subject, but if scaring your kids keeps them from falling prey to teenage smoking, it's worth any negative feelings it happens to dredge up.

Ask anyone who smokes about why they picked up the habit, and they’ll probably tell you that they wish that they never had — especially those who succumbed to teenage smoking. The Surgeon General points out that nearly all smokers start by age 18. But, as Centers for Disease Control says, there is hope: Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking-related disease by about 90 percent. If your kids don’t smoke, talk to them about staying away. If they do, help them quit. If you’re not sure, you need to find out.

What Can I Say to Them?

Today’s teen is cynical and savvy, so hypocrisy will not fly. If you smoke, take steps to quit. Be the good example, but understand the attraction and the peer pressure. Practice social interactions and give them pointers for ways to say “no.” If they’re not having that, explain how expensive smoking is, and how addictive. Explain to them that, because smoking is banned in so many places, picking up the habit can make you a kind of leper. If you’re kid’s a loner anyhow, appeal to their vanity. Help them realize that smoking is a smelly, dirty habit, and how the smell of smoke sinks into clothing and hair.

What If They Don’t Listen?

Cancer is a scary subject, but if scaring your kids keeps them smoke-free, it’s worth any negative feelings it happens to dredge up. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is both the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., and the most preventable in the world. Tobacco use also increases your risk of a whole host of other cancers, including mouth cancer, pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer and acute myeloid leukemia.

When you talk to your kids about smoking, it’s important to remember that cigarettes are not the only way that people can be exposed to nicotine. Smokeless tobacco and flavored cigarettes like cloves and bidis can be as harmful and addictive as traditional cigarettes. Smoking a water pipe, or a hookah, is often thought of as safe — but, in fact, all of these are bad for your health.

Another dangerous trend that appeals to teens is electronic cigarettes. These battery-operated devices look like regular tobacco cigarettes. The device contains nicotine, which is turned into a vapor. It even appears to emit cigarette smoke, and, unfortunately, may carry similar health risks. These devices can get people who use them hooked on nicotine.

What if My Kid Already Smokes?

If you think or know your teen has already started using tobacco products, take action right away. Confront them about it, but speak to them as adults, rather than just chastising them. Make an effort to understand whether there are social pressures that are contributing to the “need” to smoke.

Make sure they know that not quitting is not an option, but be receptive to their thoughts during this discussion. Make sure your kids understand that smoking and tobacco products are prohibited in your house and car, and anytime you are together.

There are gums, patches and other products on the market that seem to help some people quit. There are even apps like QuitSTART that might be just the right medicine for your phone-obsessed teen. Be stern, be helpful but most of all, be encouraging. Do whatever you can to help keep your kid focused on quitting, and show your support by celebrating every possible landmark. An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, but neither you nor your child is a failure because they started smoking. When they quit with your help, it will be a victory for you both.


UVA Cancer Center provides excellent resources for smoking cessation, including a calendar of events and support groups.

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Kimberley Sirk
Kimberley Sirk