Recent studies have found that kids really do listen when parents advise them to avoid tobacco , drugs , and alcohol . Take some time to talk to your kids about the hazards of using tobacco; it can make a big difference in their lives.

Facts About Tobacco Use

Kids may not realize the hazards associated with all types of tobacco. These include:

  • Compared to kids who don’t use tobacco, kids who use tobacco may:
    • Develop more respiratory problems
    • Have more asthma attacks
    • Get sick and go to the doctor more often
    • Have poorer athletic performance
  • Spit tobacco, cigars, and low-tar and additive-free cigarettes are not safe alternatives to regular cigarettes.
  • Most teens, adults, and athletes don’t use tobacco.
  • Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. It causes heart disease, cancers, and strokes .

Take a Stand at Home—Early and Often

Despite the impact of movies, music, and TV, parents can be the greatest influence in their kids' lives. Here are some guidelines for helping keep your kids tobacco free:

  • Talk directly to your children about the risks of tobacco use. If friends or relatives died from tobacco-related illnesses, let your kids know.
  • Tell your kids how you feel about tobacco use. Tell them how hurt and disappointed you would be if they used tobacco.
  • Talk to your kids about the offensiveness of tobacco use: the smell, bad breath, yellowing of teeth, among others.
  • If you use tobacco, you can still make a difference. Your best move, of course, is to try to quit . Meanwhile, don’t use tobacco in your children’s presence. Tell them that you wish you didn’t use tobacco because it is a nasty, dirty, addictive habit. Don’t offer tobacco to your children, and don’t leave it where they can easily get it.
  • Begin talking to your kids about tobacco use when they are five or six years old and continue right through high school. Many kids start using tobacco by age 11 and many are addicted by age 14.
  • If your children ask why tobacco is legal, tell them that the rules don’t always make sense. Explain to them that it is still a very deadly drug.
  • Know if your kids’ friends use tobacco. Help your kids to come up with ways to say no to tobacco.
  • Talk about the false glamorization of tobacco in the media. For example, movies with smoking scenes can negatively impact kids. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children who tend watch more movies with smoking scenes are more likely to become smokers when they are older than children who tend to watch fewer such movies.
  • Discourage your kids from buying items (eg, t-shirts, back packs) associated with cigarette companies.
  • Don’t waste money on tobacco. Use it for clothes, CDs, computer games, and movies.

What if your child has already tried smoking? By using good parenting skills (eg, having consequences for your child's actions and monitoring your child’s behavior) you can reduce the chance that your child will become a daily smoker.

Make a Difference in Your Community

You can take action outside of your home, too. For example:

  • Vote with your pocketbook. Support businesses that don’t sell tobacco to kids. Go to restaurants and other places that are tobacco-free.
  • Be sure your schools and all school events are tobacco-free.
  • Partner with your local tobacco prevention programs. Call your local health department and your cancer, heart, or lung association to learn how you can get involved.
  • If your children are involved in sports, ask their coaches to talk to them about the effects of smoking on athletic performance.