Today, my 18-year-old son asked me a worrisome question: “How come a few of my friends think it’s okay to smoke?” While 1 out of 5 teens are smokers, that figure is down by about 50 percent since 1965, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Many of those parent discussions and school health textbooks must be having some impact. But what about that child who still thinks it’s okay to light up? Have the conversation about smoking with your child early—before middle school—and often. Take time to emphasize both the long-term and immediate effects of smoking.
Long-term consequences of smoking include numerous types of cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. According to the ACS, lung cancer is the leading of cause of cancer death for both men and women in the U.S. Furthermore, lung cancer is the most preventable cause of death in our society. Scary facts, but to a teen, such health issues may seem far away in the future. So, when you talk to your teen, emphasize that long-term health problems aren't the only dangers related to smoking. Nicotine, plus the various toxins found in cigarettes, rapidly takes effect in our bodies. Be direct with your child and explain that new smokers are faced with these immediate problems:
• Interested in being an athlete? Smokers can’t be great athletes because smoking damages lung tissue and causes shortness of breath. Cigarette smoking also makes it harder for the body to produce collagen so a tendon or ligament injury will take longer to heal in a smoker.
• Want to keep that girlfriend or boyfriend? Smoking damages the gums and teeth and causes bad breath. It makes your hair stink, too.
• Want to be the picture of health? You won’t have a beautiful complexion if you smoke. Smoking restricts the blood vessels and oxygen has trouble reaching the skin, making you look pale and unhealthy.
• It’s expensive and you work hard for a paycheck at that part-time job.
• Nicotine is highly addictive--even if you decide to quit later, it will be a battle to stop smoking.
• Have you searched the internet for pictures of a healthy lung and a cigarette damaged lung? Yuck!
Keep talking to your child. It’s not just one conversation or one health lesson that keeps a healthy child from reaching for a cigarette. In the short term, remaining smoke free will mean an adolescent with more energy, a healthy look, and more spending money. For the long term, never lighting up will mean a longer, healthier life.
Reviewed June 28, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton