How to talk to kids about the dangers of smoking

11:23 AM, May 07, 2018

It goes without saying that smoking and children should never mix. Not only is it addictive and costly, it also possibly sets them up for serious long-term health challenges that could take their life. Unfortunately, as Tobacco-Free Kids report, 8 percent of all high school students are regular smokers, and over 11 percent are regular e-cigarette smokers, with 2,300 kids trying smoking for the first time each day.

With smoking and vaping so prevalent among teenagers, a parent needs to know how to talk to their kids about it. Here is some information on how to best approach this subject with your child.

What are the dangers of secondhand smoke?

First thing to consider as a parent is that most children don't smoke. However, what your child may not realize is that secondhand smoke can be just as serious. If your child finds themselves around others who smoke regularly, approach them with sensitivity. Some of these smokers may be close friends, but as a parent you must not shy away from presenting information regarding the dangers of secondhand smoke.

For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies show that older children whose parents smoke get sick more often. Their lungs grow less than children who do not breathe secondhand smoke, and they get more bronchitis and pneumonia.

The CDC also indicates that wheezing and coughing are more common in children who breathe secondhand smoke, and it can easily trigger an asthma attack. Children with asthma who are around secondhand smoke have more severe and frequent asthma attacks, and that, in turn, can put their lives in danger.

Aside from these mentioned illnesses, children whose parents smoke around them get more ear infections, according to the CDC, and they also have fluid in their ears more often and have more operations to put in ear tubes for drainage.

If you are a smoker and have children, quit. It may take time, but setting the example for your children could not only save your life but theirs as well. If your child's friends smoke, make them aware of the potential health dangers and sensitively guide them on how to best handle this tough situation with their friends.

What are the health issues from smoking and its long-term impact?

Children who smoke are probably unaware of the impact it can have on their health, even now in their youth.

For starters, lists lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, stroke, asthma, adverse reproductive defects, premature, low-birthrate babies, diabetes, cataracts and macular degeneration as just a few of the serious issues that could accompany a smoker's life.

While there are many health issues that arise from smoking, perhaps the most serious, as well as long-term, are the health issues classified as diseases — like cancer.

Not only has smoking has been linked to lung cancer, but it also has connections to 10 other types of cancer. In fact, lists that smoking causes and lowers survival rates in correlation with at least a dozen other cancers.

Here is some perspective: More people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer, with cigarette smoking being the No. 1 risk factor. Cigarettes are responsible for 87 percent of lung cancer deaths, and a person's chance of still being alive five years after being diagnosed is slim — less than 1 in 5.

To put this into further perspective, the CDC notes that cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, with more than 480,000 deaths each year. This is nearly 1 in 5 deaths are tied to cigarette smoking.

Boiled down, this means that smoking causes more deaths each year than the following causes combined: HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, and firearm-related incidents.

While your teenager may not ever consider driving drunk, or putting themselves in other dangerous situations, some may never stop to consider the risk they put themselves in when they smoke. If your child is smoking, help them see that this is a serious health issue that could have terrible consequences. The point is not to scare them, but to be honest and loving in informing them of the risks. No one wants to lose a child, especially to something as preventable as the effects from smoking.

Tobacco use is typically a gateway to other drugs

One of the greatest problems with smoking isn't necessarily the health effects of smoking, it's what it can lead to for your teenager in terms of more serious, damaging drugs.

The National Institutes of Health cite a new study in mice shows that nicotine makes the brain more susceptible to cocaine addiction. The finding suggests that lowering smoking rates in young people might help reduce cocaine and other drug abuse. For example, as found in the same study, over 90 percent of adult cocaine users between the ages of 18 and 34 had smoked cigarettes before they began using cocaine. The point being, of those that use illegal drugs there is probably a good chance they were, or still are, cigarette smokers.

Make sure this child knows this. While many children would say they would never do illegal drugs, some might not think smoking is bad. Make sure your child is aware of the risk that comes with smoking in correlation with abuse of more potent drugs.

It's against the law to sell tobacco products to underage youth.

Aside from the health issues and dangerous roads smoking can lead, selling cigarettes to underage children is illegal. According to the Food and Drug Administration, if you sell tobacco products (e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco and cigars) you must comply with all applicable federal laws and regulations for retailers.

Meaning, retailers must check photo ID of everyone under age 27 who attempts to purchase any tobacco product; only sell tobacco products to customers age 18 or older; not sell tobacco products in a vending machine unless in an adult-only facility; and do not give away free samples of tobacco products to consumers, including any of their components or parts.

Help your child understand the illegality and danger of underage smoking by comparing it to other illegal activities, like selling a firearm to an underage child, driving a car without a license, etc. These are things they would never seek out, and neither should they seek cigarettes underage.

Think that your child may have a problem? Seek help. Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority has peer coaches and counselors ready to talk to you 24 hours a day. Call 800-241-4949 or visit

Here to talk. Here to help.


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