FFFTobacco And Kids

No. 68; January 2019

Children's addiction to nicotine from cigarette smoking, smokeless tobacco (chew), cigars, hookahs (water pipes), and vaping (using e-cigarettes) is a major public health problem.

The Facts about teen smoking:

  • Approximately 4.5 million U.S. teenagers smoke.
  • Approximately 3,000 teenagers start smoking every day, and one-third of them will die prematurely of a smoking related disease.
  • High school students who smoke cigarettes are more likely to take risks such as ignoring seat belts, getting into physical fights, carrying weapons, and having sex at an earlier age.
  • Tobacco is considered to be a "gateway drug" which may lead to alcohol, marijuana, and other illegal drug use.
  • Most adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18.
  • Tobacco use continues to be the most common cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.
  • Cigarette smoking and tobacco use are associated with many forms of cancer.
  • Smoking is the main cause of lung and heart disease.
  • Nicotine, found in e-cigarette vapors and tobacco products, is very addictive and increases a person’s risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Smoking worsens existing medical problems, such as asthma, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
  • The earlier a person starts smoking, the greater the risk to his or her health and the harder it is to quit.

Children at MOST risk for tobacco and e-cigarette use:

  • Have parents, siblings, or friends who smoke
  • Exhibit characteristics such as toughness and acting grown up
  • Deny the harmful effects of tobacco
  • Have fewer coping skills and smoke to alleviate stress
  • Have poor self-esteem and depression
  • Have poor academic performance, especially girls
  • Are very influenced by advertisements that relate cigarette smoking to being thin and/or suffer from eating disorders

What parents can do to prevent tobacco and e-cigarette use:

  • Parents are role models. If you smoke, quit. If you have not quit, do not smoke in front of your children and tell them you regret that you started.
  • Do not allow smoking in your home and strictly enforce the rule.
  • Ask whether tobacco and vaping are discussed in school.
  • Ask about tobacco use and vaping by friends; compliment children who do not smoke.
  • Do not allow your children to handle smoking materials.
  • Support school and community anti-smoking efforts and tell school officials you expect them to enforce no smoking policies.
  • Make tobacco and e-cigarettes less readily available to children and teens -- licensing of vendors and bans on unattended vending machines.
  • Discuss with your children the false and misleading images used in advertising and movies which portray smoking as glamorous, healthy, sexy, and mature.
  • Emphasize the short-term negative effects such as bad breath, yellowed fingers, smelly clothes, shortness of breath, and decreased performance in sports.
  • Emphasize that nicotine is addictive.
  • Help children to say "No" to tobacco by role playing situations in which tobacco is offered by peers.

If your child or teen has already begun to use tobacco, the following steps can help him or her to stop:

  • Advise him/her to stop. Be non-confrontational, supportive, and respectful.
  • Assist his/her efforts to quit and express your desire to help.
  • Provide educational materials.
  • Help your child identify personally relevant reasons to quit.
  • Your community may have a tobacco cessation program and may have specific programs for teens.
  • If you smoke, agree to quit with your child and negotiate a quit date.
  • Enlist the child's pediatrician or family physician to help the child stop smoking.
  • If the child is abusing other drugs and/or alcohol or there are problems with mood or other disorders, evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional may be indicated.