Smoking and Teenagers: Quit Smoking Tips for Teens: How to Teach Your Kids to Butt Out

Ah, those teenage years. They are the years most of us experience our first kiss, first heartbreak, first job, and the list goes on. But for some teens, this is also the time they will take their first puff of a cigarette. Today, about 1 in 5 (or about 4.5 million) teenagers smoke. Of those, nearly one third will become regular smokers. What's more, some 90% of adult smokers reported starting before they turned 19.

Recently, in fact, a Canadian study has shown that teenagers report signs of nicotine addiction far earlier than previously predicted (in some cases as soon as five months after their first cigarette). And once a craving has been reported, the probability that the teen will become a regular smoker increases dramatically.

And the media certainly doesn’t make the fight to stop this deadly trend any easier; images portrayed in advertising often associate smoking with being youthful, sexual and socially esteemed.

For all of these reasons, it is crucial that you discuss the effects of smoking with your child as soon as possible (ideally before adolescence) and that you understand the challenges facing today’s teenagers.

What is the Likelihood that My Teenager will Start Smoking?
If you are a smoker then watch out! Teens who come from families in which one or both parents smoke are more than twice as likely to acquire the deadly habit as those who come from homes in which neither parent is a smoker.

As for age, statistics show high school students are more likely to smoke than middle school students by more than 10%. And while traditionally it was boys who were more likely to smoke than girls, today the gender gap has narrowed, and according to some reports, has even reversed.

What is even more significant is that while the percentage of teenage boy smokers has been on the decline over the past couple of years, the statistics for girls have stayed about the same. In 2004, for example, the percentage of high school boys that smoked was 22.1%, compared with 24.6% in 2002. In 2004 by contrast, the number of girls who smoked was about 22.4%, while in 2002 it was 21.2%. In Canada, 56% of teen smokers are girls.

One possible reason for this is that smoking is often linked to weight loss. And for teenage girls who are forever bombarded with images of impossibly thin women, the desire for a quick fix can be all too tempting. One recent survey has suggested that teenage girls who assign great importance to being thin are about four times more likely to become smokers than girls who consider it to be unimportant.

The good news is that the overall rate of teenage smoking has gone down by about 30% over the past several years. Skyrocketing cigarette prices, school campaigns as well as an increased exposure to the effects of smoking both in the media and on tobacco products themselves have all played a role in this decline.

Why do Teens Start Smoking?
Without a doubt, the major reason teens start smoking is due to peer pressure. In fact, 70% of teens report that pressure from their friends and peers is the number one reason they started smoking. Behind that, having a smoking parent is another major factor, especially for middle schoolers, who are generally more influenced by their parents than teenagers.

However, there are many other reasons why your teen may start smoking, including:

  • Media influence
  • They don’t appreciate their own vulnerability to the effects of smoking
  • To lose weight or reduce stress
  • To feel like an adult

There are also certain behaviors associated with a greater risk for smoking. If you notice your teen engaging in any of the following behaviors, you should talk to her about the dangers of smoking right away:

  • She has poor academic performance
  • She seems isolated from other students or the school in general
  • She is not confident about her ability to pursue post-secondary education
  • She has been caught skipping school
  • She has been caught with drugs and/or alcohol

What is the Most Effective Way to Stop My Kids from Smoking?
Unquestionably, the best way to prevent your children from smoking is by speaking with them openly and honestly before they are exposed to the pressures of the adolescent world. And don’t think one conversation is enough either. Engaging in regular and direct conversations about smoking is essential to getting your message across. And it is never to late to talk to your child, even if you already have evidence that they’ve started smoking. Here are some tips on how to talk to your child about the risks of smoking:

  • Use media advertising on television and magazines as an opportunity to talk about how tobacco companies target teens. If smoking were really such a personal choice, why would these companies need to spend billions of dollars a year to convince you of that?
  • Since most teenagers are often self-involved, explain to them that while diseases like lung and mouth cancer may take years to become noticeable, bad breath and odor, stained teeth, and yellow fingernails are among the nasty side effects of smoking that do anything but make them more attractive
  • Also, explain to them that while smoking may induce weight loss, it is minimal, and is a comparatively insignificant benefit for a habit that could ultimately kill you. Also, explain to them that leading a healthy lifestyle is a much more sustainable way to keep your body looking and feeling good.
  • And though it might seem like a superficial reason not to smoke, explaining to your teen the economic disadvantages of smoking and what it could mean for them in the future. Even if they are only buying a pack or two a week, they are still spending about $500 a year on smoking. Surely they won’t have trouble thinking of all the other things they could buy with that money!
  • Most importantly, let your teen know that real friends do not force each other to do things they don’t want to do. Giving your child a sense of self-confidence in their own decision-making skills will empower them to lead a life they can be proud of.

And don’t forget to be an example! If you smoke, even the most valiant attempt at convincing your child not to smoke will not speak as loudly as your actions. In fact, quitting in front of your child may be one of the most powerful ways to show them what a serious issue it is to you, which could be the most inspiring thing of all.