How to Talk to Your Kids About Tobacco

For decades, young people sneaking a cigarette or dip in the backyard out of their parents’ sight was dismissed as a rite of passage. Unfortunately, these exact moments are when tobacco use begins and for far too many kids leads to a lifetime of addiction. It may seem difficult to talk with your kids about tobacco, especially when it seems there are so many other dangers out there. However, the conversation can’t wait because nine out of 10 smokers start by age 18.[1] Every day, more than 3,200 youth (younger than 18 years of age) try smoking for the first time and 2,100 youth and young adults become regular addicted smokers.[2] Here are some tips to help you prepare for a conversation:
  • If you smoke, the best thing you can do for your own health and your child’s health is to quit. Research shows that kids who have a parent who smokes are more likely to smoke and to be heavier smokers at young ages.[3] However, the good news is that when parents quit smoking, their kids become less likely to start smoking and more likely to quit if they already smoke.[4]
  • Address the problem, don’t ignore it. Despite what kids might have you believe, studies show that parents can have a significant impact on their kid’s behavior, such as whether or not to use tobacco products.[5]
  • Become involved in your kids’ lives and social schedules. Young people whose friends use tobacco are more likely to use tobacco themselves to try to fit in. Meanwhile, kids who do well in school and participate in structured, extra-curricular activities are less likely to be susceptible to smoking.[6]
  • Educate yourself about e-cigarettes, even if you don’t use them yourself. With the growing trend of youth using e-cigarettes, here are some important things you should know:
    • In Florida, the number of high school students who were current e-cigarette users has increased from 2013 to 2015.[7]
    • One in three Florida high school students has tried an e-cigarette.[8]
    • In 2014, for the first time, more Florida teens used e-cigarettes than any other tobacco product.[9]
    • Here are some tips for protecting youth from the dangers of e-cigarettes:
      • Don’t leave liquid nicotine unattended, at all. Nicotine is a strong poison that can cause serious illness or death if swallowed. Even in very small amounts.
      • Kids can order tobacco and e-cigarettes online, so check deliveries to your home and check your credit cards for unexpected charges.
      • Check their backpacks to know what they are bringing home.
      • E-cigarettes typically won’t make clothes smell of tobacco smoke. If you don’t smell tobacco on them, don’t assume they aren’t using products with nicotine.
      • Some e-cigarettes require charging, so check to see what devices are being charged or if you see an unusual plug.
  • Back up the conversation with facts they can relate to. Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States[10] and here are some quick facts that can help sway the conversation in your favor to prevent them from using tobacco.
    • Tobacco use is responsible for about 480,000 deaths a year in the U.S.[11] That’s about one in five deaths annually, and more than 1,300 deaths every day.
    • On average, smokers die at least 10 years earlier than non-smokers.[12]
    • For every person who dies from smoking, about 30 more people suffer from one or more serious illnesses caused by smoking.[13]
    • Because the adolescent brain is still developing, nicotine use during adolescence can disrupt the formation of brain circuits that control attention, learning and susceptibility to addiction.[14]
    • Most teens are not able to quit due to the addicting properties of nicotine. In fact, only one in three young smokers will quit, and one of those remaining smokers will die from tobacco-related causes.[15]
    • Nicotine is highly addictive.[16] The pathway for addiction to nicotine is similar to those for heroin and cocaine.[17]
    • While smoking-related diseases usually occur years after a person starts, smoking has immediate effects on the body.[18] Early cardiovascular damage is seen in most young smokers; those most sensitive die very young.[19]
    • Smoking also reduces lung function and retards lung growth. Teens who smoke are not only short of breath today, but they also may end up as adults with lungs that will never grow to full capacity. Such damage is permanent and increases the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.[20]
    • There are more than 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, at least 250 are toxic and about 70 are known to cause cancer.[21]
These numbers are powerful, and so are real-life stories. If you know someone who died or is suffering because of tobacco use, share their story with your kids. Create a world where seeing people smoke or use other tobacco products is the exception, not the norm. Learn how you can get involved in your community by visiting www.tobaccofreeflorida.com/getinvolved.

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[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.
[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014. Printed with corrections, January 2014.
[3] Gilman, SE, et al., “Parental Smoking and Adolescent Smoking Initiation: An Intergenerational Perspective on Tobacco Control,” Pediatrics 123(2): e274-e281, February 2009. Bauman, K, et al., “Effect of parental smoking classification on the association between parental and adolescent smoking,” Addictive Behaviors 15(5):413-22, 1990. See also, Osler, M, et al., “Maternal smoking during childhood and increased risk of smoking in young adulthood,” International Journal of Epidemiology 24(4):710-4, August 1995.
[4] Farkas, A, et al., “Does parental smoking cessation discourage adolescent smoking,” Preventive Medicine 28(3):213-8, March 1999.
[5] Newman, I, et al., “The influence of parental attitude and behavior on early adolescent cigarette smoking,” Journal of School Health 59(4):150-2, April 1989. See also, Distefan, J, et al., “Parental influences predict adolescent smoking in the United States, 1989-1993,” Journal of Adolescent Health 22:466-74, 1998.
[6] Resnick, M, et al., “Protecting adolescents from harm: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health,” Journal of the American Medical Association 278(10):823-32, 1997. See, also, Kellam, S, et al., “Targeting early antecedents to prevent tobacco smoking: Findings from an epidemiologically based randomized field trial,” American Journal of Public Health 88(10):1490-95, October 1998.
[7] Florida Youth Tobacco Survey (FYTS), Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Epidemiology, 2015.
[8] Florida Youth Tobacco Survey (FYTS), Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Epidemiology, 2014.
[9] Florida Youth Tobacco Survey (FYTS), Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Epidemiology, 2014.
[10] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014.
[11] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014.
[12] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014.
[13] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014.
[14] England, L. et al. Nicotine and the Developing Human: A Neglected Element of the E -cigarette Debate. Am J Prev Med. 2015 Mar 7. [Epub ahead of print].
[15] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2012.
[16] USDHHS. The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014.
[17] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 1988. DHHS Publication No. (CDC) 88-8406.
[18] American Academy of Pediatrics October 1998 Child Health Month Report: The Risks of Tobacco Use: A Message to Parents and Teens; Milam, JE, “Perceived invulnerability and cigarette smoking among adolescents,” Addictive Behaviors 25(1):71-80, January-February 2000.
[19] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2012.
[20] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2012.
[21] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (US); Office on Smoking and Health (US). How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); 2010.