Teen Tobacco Use

Tobacco kills more people than AIDS, automobile accidents, drugs, fires, and homicides combined, costs the United States more than $150 billion a year, and is responsible for about 445 new cases of lung cancer everyday. With those tobacco statistics, people are left to wonder why anyone would choose to start smoking. As it turns out, very few adults ever do. The majority of people who use tobacco begin doing so in their teenage years and become addicted. Nearly all first time tobacco use occurs before graduation. Alarmingly, over the past decade, there has been virtually no decline in smoking rates among all teens.

As anti-smoking campaigns target our youth, photos of black lungs and premature aging circulate around their schools, and a tobacco education is presented in the form of videos, influential speakers, and class curriculum, teens still seem to be risking their health by using cigarettes and other tobacco products. It appears that combating teen smoking should prevent adult smoking and the future problems that occur as a result. However, more than 3,000 new youth smokers emerge everyday.

Among these new smokers, there are some common characteristics that are considered risk factors for early tobacco use. Those high school students who suffer from poor self-image, struggle with grades, or fall into a low socio-economic class are more likely to use tobacco. In addition, the majority of all youth smokers (as many as 98%) have one or more parents who smoke. It is likely that setting the example by not smoking may be the best way to keep our teens tobacco free. While smoking is also strongly linked with having friends or peers who smoke, parents still have a powerful influence on their teens by talking to them about the dangers of tobacco use.

There are a number of ways in which parents can assist their teen with staying tobacco free. Talking to them about how the tobacco companies try to encourage smoking by using advertisements and paying actors to smoke in movies, discussing good decision making skills, and prohibiting smoking in the home will discourage tobacco use. In addition, teens should be made aware of the serious health effects associated with smoking.

However, teens aren’t always able to fully comprehend their own mortality at such a young age, or perceive long term effects as a reality. Therefore, it is also important to also discuss the short term effects of tobacco use. For example, talk to them about how smoking will have a negative impact on their ability to play sports or participate in other athletic activities. Appeal to their sense of vanity and discuss the smell of smoke on ones clothes and hair, the yellowing of the teeth and nails, and the weathering of the skin that will result.

In addition, encourage your teen to evaluate the financial restraints of smoking, how the cost of cigarettes can add up, and to think about other things they would prefer to do with that money. It is also a good idea to promote involvement in positive activities that encourage health and discourage idle time. Discuss how to deal with peer pressure. Keeping teens tobacco free is a tremendous responsibility. However, preventing premature death and other negative consequences that result from tobacco use make it well worth the effort.

You may also consider using a Forbidden Substance Contract which covers drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use. By using this type of contract you can lay out why type of consequences your child can expect if they ever choose to try smoking, drinking, or using drugs. But, you must stay firm in following through with this contract ifyou ever suspect your child of participating in these behaviors. Therefore, choose consequences you are willing to carry out.