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How to Talk to Your Kids About Smoking: 6 Tips for Smoking Prevention

January 31, 2018

A shocking 90 percent of all smokers started before they were 18 years old, according to the American Lung Association. In fact, more than 3,000 American teens will smoke their first cigarette today, and about 25 percent of them will become addicted.

While the choice to light a cigarette belongs to each child, parents can have a significant influence over that decision. The Center for Disease Control suggests setting a good example by not smoking yourself, then initiating important conversations about the dangers and pitfalls of smoking. Here’s how to start:

Begin the Conversation When They’re Young

You don’t have to wait until smoking becomes an immediate issue. Children as young as 5 or 6 years old benefit from hearing about the harmful effects of cigarette smoke. Start by saying most children don’t smoke (so they know it’s not normal), and then keep repeating the same message about the downsides of cigarettes as they reach their teens.

Set Ground Rules and Rewards

Tell your child that you expect him or her to say no to tobacco. Say that your house and your car are smoke-free zones and cigarettes simply won’t be tolerated. You can also try incentivizing young ones to avoid nicotine. For every year your child stays cigarette-free, you can offer a bump in allowance as a reward.

Highlight the Negative Side Effects

It’s important to mention the many ways smoking can harm one’s health, such as by causing cancer or heart disease, but you should also teach your kid about the immediate side effects. Bad breath, stinky hair and clothes, yellow teeth, and a decline in performance on the basketball court may carry more weight than health issues they could face down the road.

Share Your Experience

Your child may respond to hearing about your personal experiences with cigarettes. If you’ve been a smoker in the past, talk about how hard it was to quit and how regretful you feel that you ever started.

Ask Your Child How They Feel About Smoking

If your child finds smoking appealing, ask why. Maybe they think it looks cool or their friends smoke and they want to fit in. Listen to their reasons, and try not to be judgmental. Reacting with yelling and screaming may make them more willing to rebel.

Create a Game Plan for What to Do When They’re Offered a Cigarette

Help your child sort through how he or she will respond to being offered a smoke so they’re ready when the time comes. They should be confident enough to say, “No, thanks, that’s not for me.” Leaning on an excuse, like, “Gross! It’ll make my breath stink,” also works and arms them with the comeback they need.