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Talking to Your Kids About Cigarette Smoking

Children and cigarette smoking are a bad combination. Statistics show that 90% of adult smokers started smoking as children. Each day in the United States, 3,450 kids between 12 and 17 years old smoke their first cigarette, about one-quarter of them will become daily smokers.

Children start smoking for a variety of reasons. Some think it makes them look cool, appear older, fit in with other kids, lose weight, or seem tough. Some do it just to feel independent. Some do it just because they've seen it all their life and think it's normal. 

You should start the dialogue about tobacco use at age 5 or 6, and continue it through the high school years. Many kids start using tobacco by age 11, and many are addicted by age 14. Try talking to your children about smoking before school, on the way to practice or rehearsals, or after dinner.

Parents must make sure children understand the dangers of smoking. Smoking can cause cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. Short-term effects include coughing and throat irritation. Over time, increased heart rate and blood pressure, as well as bronchitis and emphysema, can result.

The best ways to prevent your children from smoking are to:

  • Encourage your children to get involved in activities that prohibit smoking, including sports.
  • Keep talking to your children about the dangers of smoking. If friends or relatives have died from tobacco-related illnesses, let your kids know.
  • Ask your children what they find appealing -- or unappealing -- about smoking.
  • Discuss ways to respond to peer pressure about smoking.
  • Know if your kids' friends use tobacco. Encourage your children to walk away from friends who don't recognize or respect their reasons for not smoking.
  • Make, and abide by, strong rules that exclude smoking from your house.
  • If you smoke, quit. It's important to set a good example.
  • If you do smoke, let your children know that you made a mistake by starting and will try to stop.
  • Never smoke in front of children, offer them cigarettes, or leave cigarettes where they can find them.

Certain signs may suggest that your child is smoking. They include:

  • Smoke smell on clothing
  • Coughing
  • Throat irritation
  • Hoarseness
  • Bad breath
  • Decreased athletic performance
  • Greater susceptibility to colds
  • Stained teeth and clothing (which also can be signs of chewing tobacco use)
  • Shortness of breath

If you notice any of these signs of smoking in your child, don't overreact. Ask your child about it first. Smelling smoke on his or her clothes, for example, may mean your child has been hanging around with friends who smoke. It could also mean your child has tried a cigarette. Remember that many kids try a cigarette at one time or another, but don't necessarily go on to become regular smokers.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on March 06, 2014

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