How to Talk to Your Kids About Tobacco if You Use Tobacco or Recently Quit

Back-to-school time means a lot of things for parents: arranging carpools, managing schedules, and helping their kids prepare for their first day back in the classroom. It’s also the perfect time for you to talk to your kids about tobacco use.

But can parents who use tobacco effectively influence their kids to stay tobacco free without seeming like hypocrites? Absolutely! Here are some tips on how you can help your kids stay tobacco free even if you’re a current tobacco user or you recently quit:

Never Use Tobacco Around Your Kids

According to the American Cancer Society, a 2009 study showed that teens whose parents often talked to them about the dangers of smoking were about half as likely to smoke as those who didn’t have these discussions with their parents. This held true whether or not the parents were smokers themselves. But if you are a tobacco user, make sure not to use tobacco around your kids or leave it where they can easily get a hold of it. When kids don’t regularly see adults using tobacco, they’re less likely to think it’s acceptable and less likely to start using. Also, maintain a smoke-free home and car to avoid exposing your kids to dangerous secondhand smoke, which has 7,000 chemicals, hundreds that are toxic and 69 known to cause cancer.[1]

Start Young

Since nine out of 10 smokers start by age 18,[2] it’s crucial to prevent kids from using tobacco during these pivotal years. Start these conversations early with your kids — kids as young as 12 can get addicted to smoking. As a tobacco user, you know firsthand how hard it is to quit. In fact, of every three young smokers, only one will quit, and one of those remaining smokers will die from tobacco-related causes.[3]

Share Your Struggles to Quit

Acknowledge to your kids that you made a mistake by starting to use tobacco, and that you don’t want them to make the same mistake. Kids often underestimate the power of addiction and how difficult it is to quit.[4] Let them know how hard it has been to quit. If you’re trying to quit or recently quit, tell your kids what the withdrawal symptoms are like if you’ve experienced any, such as insomnia, anger, hunger, or sleepiness.

Explain How Tobacco Affects You

If you, a family member or friend has suffered health effects from smoking, share these with your kids. For example, let them know that tobacco kills about 443,000 people each year in the U.S., that’s about one in five deaths annually.[5] Inform them that on average smokers die 13 to 14 years earlier than non-smokers.[6] Also, explain that tobacco use can damage your health in many ways, like causing heart disease, stroke, COPD, lung cancer, bladder cancer, stomach cancer, kidney cancer, oral cancers, and more.[7] For additional facts about the health effects of tobacco, click here.

Aside from the health effects, let your kids know how tobacco impacts your everyday life. How much money are you spending on tobacco that you could be saving? Are you shunned from certain places or situations because smoking is prohibited or because people don’t want to be near smokers? In fact, about four out of five American’s are non-smokers. It’s important for kids to know that smoking is the exception, not the norm. This way, they’ll feel less pressure to smoke in order to “fit in.”

If Your Kids Already Started Using Tobacco

If so, avoid threats and ultimatums. Your job is to be supportive, and let them know the short- and long-term benefits of quitting smoking, no matter how hard it can be. Visit tobaccofreeflorida.com/helpsomeonequit for tips on how to help your family and friends quit.

For more tips on talking to your kids, see this additional blog post: How to Talk to Your Kids About Tobacco.

And if you’re ready to quit, Tobacco Free Florida’s free resources can double your chance of success. We’re here to help. Visit tobaccofreeflorida.com/howtoquit for info on our 3 Ways to Quit.

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[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: 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, 2010.
[2] Department of Health and Human Services (US). A Report of the Surgeon General: Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People. 1995. Web. 22 March 2011.
[3] Department of Health and Human Services (US). A Report of the Surgeon General: Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults. 2012. Web. 06 August 2013.
[4] 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.
[5] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses—United States, 2000–2004. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2008;57(45):1226–8
[6]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Annual Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses-United States, 1995-1999. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2002;51(14):300-3.
[7] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: 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, 2004.