Long-term tobacco use has all sorts of ill effects, as our parents’ and grandparents’ generations have shown us. However, you shouldn’t assume your child fully understands the consequences of tobacco use and nicotine addiction, especially since the tobacco industry has revamped their products and messaging.
Here are the most recent tobacco trends along with a few ways you can talk to your child about tobacco use.
The Extent of the Tobacco Problem
The good news is, middle and high schoolers who use tobacco are in the minority. These are the 2017 statistics on underage tobacco use from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
|Type of Tobacco||Middle Schoolers||Is Use Up or Down?||High Schoolers||Is Use Up or Down?|
|Cigarettes||2.1% in past 30 days||↓||7.6% in past 30 days||↓|
|Electronic Cigarettes||3.3% in past 30 days||↑||11.7% in past 30 days||↑|
|Hookahs||1.4% in past 30 days||↑||3.3% in past 30 days||↓|
|Smokeless Tobacco||1.9% are current users||N/A||5.5% are current users||N/A|
|2+ Tobacco Products||2.4% in past 30 days||N/A||9.2% in past 30 days||N/A|
|Total||5.6% are current users||N/A||19.6% are current users||N/A|
As you can see, only one-fifth of high school students regularly use tobacco products, and even fewer start in middle school. This means that by keeping the lines of communication open, you can help prevent your child from falling into tobacco use at a young age.
A Word on E-Cigarettes
Although many kids and teens believe e-cigarettes – also known as e-cigs or vape pens – are safe, these products often (but not always) contain dangerously high concentrations of nicotine, the chemical derived from the tobacco plant. Thus, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has started recognizing and regulating them like traditional tobacco cigarettes.
E-cigs are especially concerning because we do not yet know the repercussions of continuous use. Many toxic chemicals and carcinogens are included in e-juice ingredients. One study found that high schoolers who vaped within the last month were seven times more likely to report smoking traditional cigarettes within six months compared to their non-vaping peers.
How to Dissuade Your Child From Tobacco Use
Start a Conversation
Step one is making it OK to talk about tobacco use in your home by easing your child into the conversation. Try asking about:
- Their opinion on a news story or video about tobacco
- The general opinion on tobacco at their school
- The habits of their classmates, teammates or friends
This approach allows your child to discuss their feelings candidly without having all the attention on them.
If you want to have an honest dialogue with your child, they need to be able to discuss tobacco use without fear of repercussions. A kid fearful of punishment or reprimand is unlikely to tell the truth.
You must also prepare yourself for the chance that your child is already addicted to nicotine. If this is the case, try not to overreact. Your child will likely need your help and support to quit.
Find Out What Your Kid Really Thinks About Tobacco
It’s important to understand where your child is coming from and what opinions they hold about tobacco products.
Don’t be afraid to ask why your child does/doesn’t like the idea of tobacco, or why they have/haven’t tried a tobacco product. Once you understand their rationale for using or not using tobacco, you can suggest healthier alternatives or delve deeper into the subject.
Set the Record Straight
Though most kids understand that cigarettes cause lung cancer, there’s still a lot of misinformation about the other side effects of tobacco. Tell them about both short- and long-term side effects like:
- Having less money to spend on fun
- “Smoker’s breath”
- Tooth and nail discoloration
- Reduced athletic performance
- Future health problems
Pull From Your Own Experiences
Kids and teens appreciate knowing that their parents are human beings, too. Share stories about trying tobacco or being offered tobacco and refusing. Include what you were thinking in the moment and whether or not you regretted your decision later.
If you currently use tobacco, it can help to lead by example and quit. However, if this isn’t possible, transparency about the side effects of nicotine addiction can go a long way in preventing your kids from going down the same path.
Talk About Ads
While parents have enormous influence in their children’s lives, it’s still important for your child to learn how to be an educated consumer. Unfortunately, kids are disproportionately swayed by advertising, much of which is targeted at them even if tobacco companies deny it.
Here are a few kid-friendly ways to explain advertising:
- Poke fun at ridiculous ads when watching TV as a family
- Point out common ad tricks, like relying on humor, bright colors, fun flavors, attractive actors and gamification
- Explain how their favorite celebrities (yes, even YouTubers!) get paid to sell their fans products
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