Cincinnati Family Magazine

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July 15, 2024

Keeping Young Adults Smoke-Free

You worked hard to instill good values in your child starting when she was young. Now that she’s a teen you have to keep going – the big issues are now here.

Full1768.jpgAs your child grows, you work to instill good manners, help her learn how to interact with peers and teach her how to read. You reinforce habits and behaviors that model your values and attempt to ensure that she eats healthy, balanced meals. Among countless lessons parents aim to teach young children, it can be easy to overlook reinforcing some values in your teen that you confidently instilled in her as a toddler.

Commenting that smoking is bad for a person’s health or discouraging a toddler from pretending to smoke is an obvious action for parents. As ‘tweens and teens develop personalities, attitudes and interests, revisiting the basic message that smoking is a detrimental habit becomes as vital to your child’s well being as learning to read.

Your young adult’s mounting independence opens the door to a dangerous world of physical and emotional health risks. With the increasing amount of peer pressure facing children as well as the glamorous images splayed on movie and TV screens, youth tobacco use remains a prevalent threat to the health and safety of children.

Who is Prone to Smoking?

Although children who live with one or more people that smoke have a higher risk of smoking themselves, many children who grow up in smoke free environments take up this risky habit. “Children who struggle to cope with stress, or alleviating stress, and those who have extreme difficulties in school are at risk to start smoking even if they live in a smoke free home,” explains Children and Family Therapist Dr. Michelle Splitt, Ph.D. of Annapolis, Maryland.

Contrary to beliefs that only young boys use smoking as a tool to boost their image, esteem or ‘cool factor’, Splitt adds that girls are just as likely to smoke as boys. “Girls are more easily addicted to nicotine than boys, and female smokers are more likely to die of lung cancer than males who smoke the same number of cigarettes,” notes Splitt. In 1977, 40 percent of girls smoked however this number decreased to 26 percent in 1992. Five years later the percentage of girls smoking jumped up to 35 percent in 1997. One reason for this alarming statistic is the tremendous amount of advertising aimed at seducing girls into smoking because it is sexy, fun, or a way to show their independence.

Peer pressure plays a significant role in a child’s decision to begin smoking. Having friends who smoke, or who are contemplating smoking can increase the chances that your child will take up this dangerous habit. Statistics gathered by The National Research Center for Women and Families detail that children as young as ten years old contemplate smoking. The Center’s study also determined that if a child graduates high school having never started smoking, he or she has an extremely high rate of never developing a penchant to smoke.

Putting Out the Flame

Consistent, proactive involvement during your child’s teen and tween years is critical to preventing or eliminating your child’s use of tobacco. In order for your child to respect your opinions and trust in your supportive guidance regarding smoking, he must feel you trust and respect him. By assuming he’s not telling you the truth that he has not started smoking or that he is pre-disposed to giving into smoking peer pressure, you may be setting both of you up for failure. “If your child senses you distrust him, he may feel defeated and give into peer pressure,” says pediatrician, Michael Tjaden.

If your teen or tween is fighting the heavy burden of smoking pressure, have an open, honest discussion with him to help him determine why his friends smoke, to understand your deep concern for his health, and to fully understand his position on smoking. Help him see that many children who begin smoking do so because they feel inadequate or are hoping to boost their image.

Tjaden recommends presenting the truthful facts about smoking and enlisting help from your child’s pediatrician or family doctor for educational materials. “A child’s teen and tween years is the perfect time to help your child identify why he or she may be personally interested in smoking and how those interests can be channeled in a more healthy and productive manner” offers Tjaden, “Talking with a health care professional may have a deeper impact on a child who is rebelling against his parents or is looking for attention.”

Whether he has or has not already started smoking, remember that as his parent, you are in control of many factors that may contribute to him smoking. Combine truthful education regarding the serious health risks associated with smoking, with the consequences imposed at home, to dissuade him from beginning or continuing smoking. Establish rewarding goals that help boost his self confidence and help him to avoid smoking and peers who pressure him about it. Sports involvement or another activity provides a good, healthy way for kids to learn self respect for their bodies.

Where the Smoke Is

If all stores, vending machines and gas stations strictly adhered to the laws which prohibit selling tobacco products to anyone under age of 18, it is understandable to wonder how are our children obtaining cigarettes? A 2003 study conducted by The Centers for Disease Control revealed that thirty percent of smokers under 18 give someone else money to purchase cigarettes and twenty five percent borrow tobacco products from someone else. Another eighteen percent either purchase cigarettes from vending machines, steal them from a store, peer or family member, or acquire them through other creative alternatives.

Our teens and tweens smoke at bus stops, tucked behind dumpsters in the back of restaurants and convenient stores, and in their backyards when they’re home alone. They concoct elaborate cover-ups such as brushing their teeth and using mouthwash after every cigarette, frequently reapplying cologne, and blaming the odor of smoke that lingers on their clothes on a stranger who sat near them in a restaurant.

Tom Shanski, Spokesperson for the United States Fire Administration explains that every year more than 1000 children under the age of eighteen are injured as a direct result of youth smoking. “Every year, participating in or being in the presence of, careless youth smoking leads to injury or death in smokers under the age of 18,” Shanski explains. Further emphasizing his passionate stance, Shanski adds, “Every incidence of a child being burned, or in a fire started by children smoking is 100% preventable. We need to take a definitive stance against youths beginning smoking to prevent further injuries or deaths as a result of teen smoking related fires.”

Gina Roberts-Grey is a licensed clinical social worker, mother and freelance writer.


  • Nearly three million teenagers smoke
  • Every day approximately 3000 teens start smoking, and one-third of them will die prematurely due to smoking related diseases.
  • Children who smoke are more prone to participating in other dangerous behaviors such as not wearing seat belts, using alcohol and experimenting with illegal substances.
  • Not all children who smoke have parents, siblings or family members who share their smoking habit.
  • Teen smokers have lower self-esteem and confidence than non-smoking teens.

Source: Centers for Disease and Control


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