People typically begin to smoke during their teens. Studies show that teens become hooked on nicotine after smoking only a few cigarettes (as few as three a week). Girls become addicted faster than boys, sometimes in three weeks. Teen smokers get sick more often than teens who don’t smoke and may have smaller lungs and weaker hearts as well.
Teens usually start smoking because friends or family do. As a parent, you set the most powerful examples for your teen to follow. If you smoke, don’t expect your teen to stop smoking. Instead, ask your pharmacist about smoking cessation aids and other resources to help you quit the habit.
Although your teen may appear to not respect your opinion, you are likely the greatest influence on her life. As such, you can help her break the addiction. The sooner a young person can break the addiction, the better.
To begin the dialogue, try to find out why your teen has started smoking. Have his friends started doing so? The need to fit in is very important to a teenager and peer pressure is very real. Be calm, inquisitive and supportive. It is entirely possible that your teen lacks confidence in general and feels that saying “no” to an offered cigarette is somehow weak.
Be sure to ask what she considers the negative aspects of smoking. Perhaps you will hear “None!” or maybe your teen has some real concerns. For most young people, the threat of lung cancer or heart disease is off the radar, but looking and smelling bad isn’t. You might therefore explain that you don’t care for smoking as it gives you bad breath, makes your clothes and hair smell, turns the fingernails yellow, causes wrinkling around the mouth and eyes, and zaps your energy for playing sports or simply having fun.
Explain to your teen that nicotine makes its way to the brain, arriving there a few seconds after the first draw on a cigarette. This sets off a reaction that literally saps one’s power, making it difficult to quit. Nicotine releases feel-good chemicals in the brain, leading to the release of adrenaline. This neurotransmitter increases the heart rate and blood pressure, making the breathing rapid and shallow. Over time, the heart, arteries and lungs are damaged, increasing the risk for disease.
You might also point out that smoking is very expensive. How does your teen intend to pay for the habit, as well as go out with friends, afford new clothes, digital devices, and so on? Invite your teen to work out the yearly cost of smoking and suggest this could be better put to use for a new outfit, mobile phone, their own room on a family vacation, etc.
Finally, if no one else in the family smokes, establish rules about smoking in or about the home and make sure you stick with them. You might start this conversation by explaining the dangers of secondhand smoke and how it affects everyone in the household.
If your teen is receptive, consider referring him to: www.quit4life.com, Health Canada’s smoking cessation site for young smokers, and be sure to be supportive even if he doesn’t appear to be giving up the habit.
Education: The younger, the better
Ideally, parents should start to discourage their child from smoking at an early age, so that by the time he reaches his teens, the message will be ingrained. Start by identifying cigarettes as one of the “dangerous” items that your child shouldn’t touch, along with hot stoves, sharp objects, etc. Later, you can initiate conversations about the dangers of smoking.
Many parents make the mistake of believing any discussion about smoking and/or other drugs will somehow encourage younger children to begin experimenting. In fact, your concern, support and caring will do the opposite. Your child will almost certainly grow up understanding the dangers of smoking and will be better equipped to resist peer pressure to do so.