Recently released numbers from a national survey show that many high school-aged youth in the United States put themselves at risk for lifelong addiction by using tobacco or electronic cigarettes.
The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System report found that 16 percent of girls and 24 percent of boys had vaped, used smokeless tobacco, or smoked cigarettes or cigars in the past 30 days (figure).
While experimentation is a natural part of youth, when it comes to smoking, it can have lifelong consequences.
Around 90 percent of adults who regularly smoke tried their first cigarette before age 18. So, it’s important for parents to have open discussions with their children very early in life about the dangers of smoking, how addictive cigarettes and nicotine are, and how hard it can be to stop smoking once started.
Though in a tween and teen’s mind there can be a big draw to smoking – it can make them feel more mature and part of a group – there’s a lot going against it, too – even within the short time horizon that youth live in. It’s expensive, and it makes clothes and breath smell. And even some of the longer-term risks can be compelling, such as wrinkles, bad teeth, and an increased risk of many serious diseases, including cancer.
Electronic cigarettes are increasingly important to talk about in these ages as well. Statistics show that kids are using them more and more, and though electronic cigarettes are often marketed as safe alternatives to standard cigarettes, there are a lot of possible dangers for youth who use them – from nicotine addiction to exposure to risky chemicals to a greater likelihood of taking up regular cigarettes.
As with other issues, a little media literacy can go a long way to dissuade children from falling for the allure of tobacco and electronic cigarettes. The older children get, the more they like to feel in control and independent. Helping them understand how tobacco companies try to manipulate them by constructing appealing images of tobacco in advertisements, TV shows, concerts, and movies can help them more easily resist smoking’s draw. The Truth campaign by the American Legacy Foundation is a great source of information for parents and kids about Big Tobacco’s “lies and manipulation.”
One of the best thing parents can do is to lead by example and maintain a smoke-free and vape-free house and be smoke-free themselves.
In the tween and teen years, children begin to fully explore their independence, and this translates to many of their health choices. While parents may slowly lose some of the direct influence they have on their childrens’ choices, it’s important to remember that family life remains a very strong influence on the choices they make and the lasting habits they’ll form.