Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide. Currently, smoking causes 6 million deaths per year. By 2030, that figure is set to rise to more than 8 million.
The best way to prevent smoking-related deaths is to deter children from picking up the habit in the first place.
But, that’s easier said than done. Whether it’s as a result of peer pressure, lack of smoking education or a desire to rebel, more and more teens are smoking every day. In fact, every day in the US, a total of 3,200 under-18s smoke their first cigarette.
So, how can parents intervene? Effective prevention starts with a conversation. That means encouraging an open dialogue without judgment or threats. Your child is much more likely to make the right choice when it comes to smoking if you allow them to find their own path.
Read on to find out how to talk to your child about smoking.
It’s never too early to start talking to your children about smoking. You might not think it’s important when your child is only five or six. After all, they’re unlikely to start smoking on the kindergarten playground.
But, when your kid is young, they are more likely to look up to you as the authority on right and wrong. By starting the discussion early, you can make sure you and your child are on the right path long before smoking is even an issue.
Young children also tend to be more sensitive to signs of smoking such as yellow teeth and bad smells. Don’t go overboard, but be sure to make them aware that smoking is the cause of these problems. This strong association will then have more of a lasting impact when they’re old enough to decide for themselves.
Focus on What’s Important to Your Child
Children may not understand or care about the long-term health effects of smoking such as cancer and lung problems. Instead, try to focus on what they care about to explain why smoking is a bad choice:
It’s easier to demonstrate the imminent effects of smoking to your child, especially ones they can physically see. Explain how yellow teeth, thinning hair, and wrinkles are all ways in which smoking can ruin your looks.
If they’re at that age where they’re starting to care more about their appearance, this could make them pay more attention to your concerns.
Your child might respond well to a conversation about the financial impact of smoking. Talk about your family’s household budget with them and explain how much the average smoker spends each day, month and year.
Calculate the cost of smoking over 10 or 20 years with your child and discuss what they could buy with the same money. They’ll get a better idea of what an expensive habit smoking is. Not to mention, a lot less fun than computer games or any other hobbies they might want to spend their money on.
If your child likes sports, focus on the physical impact that smoking has on athletic performance. Explain that smoking could leave him or her unable to run as fast. Or it might mean that they have to stop playing because they’re out of breath.
Celebrity Role Models
It can often seem like most celebrities smoke. As a result, it’s not that easy to find non-smoking role models for your kids to look up to.
But, it can help to support your argument if your kid’s favorite celebrity doesn’t smoke or quit smoking. That celebrity’s reasons for quitting smoking might also help you explain more about addiction and why many people who smoke wish they had never started.
Strength of Character
If your child has a strong personality and knows their own mind, use that to your advantage. Explain about the hold that cigarettes can have on people and how many children start smoking due to peer pressure.
They might not necessarily want to do what you say all the time. But, they may end up deciding against cigarettes for themselves.
Talk About Addiction
You child might not understand why they see so many people smoking if it’s meant to be such a bad habit.
This is why it’s important to talk about addiction with your child. Explain how the nicotine in cigarettes is one of the most addictive substances in the world. They may not fully understand the concept of addition. But, by explaining how people struggle with quitting and find it hard to stop, it might help them grasp the concept of being addicted to something.
Older children can also benefit from learning about smoking cessation statistics and stop smoking aids. When they see how many smokers want to quit and how some people have to resort to hypnosis to stop, they will get a better idea of just how addictive smoking is.
Explain the Dangers of Alternatives
When we were children, our parents only had to explain the dangers of smoking cigarettes to us. Now, as parents ourselves, we have to also consider the dangers of alternatives such as electronic cigarettes, hookahs, and vape pens.
In fact, vaping is now an epidemic in high schools. There was a 900 percent increase in e-cigarette use among high school students between 2011 and 2015. Since e-cigarettes come in fun flavors, like jam monster or bubble gum, many youngsters think that they’re similar to candy.
Educate your child by explaining what goes into e-cigarettes, including a lot of harmful chemicals and toxic metals. And explain how these can cause breathing problems, tooth loss, and cancer. This will help you show that these alternatives are dangerous too.
Avoid Lecturing Your Child
Sweeping statements and strong negative opinions about smoking can sometimes encourage your kids to rebel against you.
Don’t forbid your child from smoking or say that all smokers are bad or stupid. Instead, ask them questions to gauge what they think about smoking. Avoid forcing your views down their throat and allow them to come to their own conclusions. Welcome questions and curiosity about smoking.
And, always be honest with them. If you’ve ever smoked or tried cigarettes, tell them about your experiences. Children are good at picking up on whether you’re being genuine or not, and your child will be more responsive if you tell them the truth.
By keeping the conversation free from judgment or threats, your child will be much more willing to discuss cigarettes with you. And, your child is also more likely to share with you when he or she is offered cigarettes.
Discuss How to Say No
When it comes to smoking, the one thing you can’t ignore is that your child is likely to be offered a cigarette at some point.
Deter this by talking to your child about how to say no without losing face in front of his or her friends. With an argument or reasoning ready at hand, your child is less likely to give in to peer pressure and say yes.
You might even try role-playing with your child. You can play the part of a fellow student, and your child has to practice different ways to refuse your offer of a cigarette. Encourage your child to come up with their own personal reasons for saying no. But, if they’re not sure, suggest that they could say they don’t like the taste, the smell, or the way they make him or her out of breath.
Set a Good Example
It has to be said, a lot of your advice and guidance will fall on deaf ears if you’re a smoker yourself.
Even if you say you want to quit or wish you didn’t smoke, your words won’t hold as much weight if your actions don’t match what you say. Children imitate what they see their parents do. Which is why parents who smoke are twice as likely to have children who smoke.
An obvious solution is to quit. The thought of encouraging your child to smoke with your own behavior could be just the catalyst you need.
And, in the meantime, don’t smoke around your children, and insist on a smoke-free home. With fewer people smoking around your child, he or she will be less likely to normalize it.
Watch for Signs of Smoking
With older children, it’s important to watch out for signs that they may have already started smoking. Keep an eye out for shortness of breath, smelly clothing, coughing, bad breath, and sudden overuse of perfumes and minty gum.
If you think your child has started smoking, ask them outright. But, don’t resort to throwing accusations around, and definitely don’t start yelling if the answer is yes.
Express your disappointment, then ask questions to establish whether they have just tried it a few times or are actually smoking as a habit.
It’s also important to find out why they’re smoking. It may be to fit in with a peer group, or it could be their way of reacting to a recent divorce or problems at home.
Avoid reacting with threats and ultimatums. Instead, talk through a plan to help your child avoid cigarettes in the future. And, explain what the consequences will be if they continue smoking.
Provide the Best Smoking Education for Your Child
By helping your child understand the dangers of smoking and giving them the tools to make decisions for themselves, you are providing the best kind of smoking education for your child.