Youth use of tobacco products in any form is unsafe, irrespective of whether it is smoked or smokeless. Nearly 90% of adult smokers started before age 18. While current cigarette smoking is declining among teens, use of electronic or e-cigarettes, also known as vape pens, and hookahs have increased. E-cigarettes are battery-operated electronic devices that vaporize liquids that contain harmful chemicals. They are sold at gas stations and convenience stores.
As different age groups require different information, here are some talking points for discussion with children of all ages. You are the biggest influence on whether your child will use tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. Make your home smoke-free. Research shows that children are likely to model their parents’ behavior – both healthy and unhealthy. Teens who thought their parents disapproved of smoking were less like to use tobacco than those who thought their parents didn’t care. This is true with both smoking and non-smoking parents.
Tell your child to never put anything in their mouth unless they know what it is.
Tell your child never to touch cigarettes, cigarette lighters or matches. Only adults are allowed handle these items.
Secure any tobacco or e-cigarette products to prevent accidental poisoning.
Explain the importance of taking good care of our bodies – eating right, exercising and getting a good night’s sleep.
5-8 Year Olds
Let your child know that just because they see people smoking, it doesn’t mean that is safe, especially for children. Secure any tobacco and e-cigarette products to prevent accidental poisoning.
Discuss how tobacco can negatively affect a person’s appearance such as yellow teeth and bad breath.
Make sure your child knows that they shouldn’t stay in a place that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Look for opportunities to talk to your child about the dangers of tobacco use. Use these teachable moments to share why tobacco is illegal for young people to use and the harm it causes a growing body.
Explain that most people do not use tobacco.
9-11 Year Olds
Explain that smoking is one of the worst things you can to do to you body. Usually, when people try smoking, they cough, feel pain or burning in their throat and feel sick to their stomachs. Because smoking affects your lungs, it is harder to run and play sports.
Act out scenes with your child where people offer them cigarettes/e-cigarettes or chewing tobacco. Let them know that they can always use you as the excuse, “No, my mom (dad, grandma, etc.) will kill me if I smoke.”
Set clear rules and expectations about tobacco, and how you will enforce the consequences if the rules are broken as using tobacco is harmful and unhealthy for them.
Tell your child what makes them so special and why you want them to be healthy and safe.
12-14 Year Olds
Make sure your teen knows your rules and expectations about using tobacco and how you will enforce the consequences if the rules are broken, as using tobacco is harmful and unhealthy for them.
Ask your teen about their beliefs about tobacco use and take the opportunity to dispel myths and share facts. For example, e-cigarettes contain dangerous chemicals. Use personal examples of friends and family who have battled tobacco addiction and its illnesses.
Get to know your teen’s friends and their families. Ask your teen about any new friends and find out what they like to do. Monitor where they go with friends. Express your concerns about friends that may not be the best influence.
Discuss your teen’s daily ups and downs.
15-17 Year Olds
Don’t lecture. Reinforce the facts and reality-driven messages about the harmful consequences of tobacco use including cancer and death.
Discuss tobacco and e-cigarette industries marketing tactics and the ads that target youth. Encourage them to visit thetruth.com website.
Compliment your teen on for the things they do well and for the positive choices they make.
Talk to your teen about the sources of stress in their lives, and healthy ways to manage their stress.
Talk with your teen about what they should do if they are concerned about a friend’s tobacco use.
Information adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and US Department of Health and Human Services.