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Teen Smoking: How Parents Can Help Prevent It

South Nassau Communities Hospital offers tips on how to help prevent teens from smoking

According to the Surgeon General’s 2012 report on “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults,” each day in the U.S., approximately 3,800 young people under 18 years of age smoke their first cigarette. The overwhelming majority of smokers, experts estimate approximately 90 percent, started smoking before they were 18 years old. About 20 percent of American teens smoke. One-third of smokers who began smoking as teens will die prematurely due to a smoking-related illness.

According to Shahriyour Andaz, MD, FACS, lung cancer specialist and director of thoracic oncology at South Nassau Communities Hospital, it is important to proactively try to prevent teen smoking. Nicotine, one of the more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco, is highly addictive. Among teens who do smoke, three out of four say they keep smoking because it’s really hard to quit. A nearly equal number say they wish they had never started smoking. 

“Someone who begins smoking as a young adolescent will have a far more difficult time quitting, can have more serious health problems and may die younger than a person who begins to smoke in adulthood. It’s important that parents and teachers do everything they can to dissuade teens and help them realize the health dangers and negative effects of smoking,” said Dr. Andaz. 

“Adolescents and young adults are extremely vulnerable to social and environmental influences promoting the use of tobacco,” notes Gina Kearney, RN, South Nassau’s director of community education. “Add to that the fact that tobacco companies spend billions of dollars on cigarette and smokeless tobacco advertising and it can be a true challenge for any parent to help their child stay tobacco-free.” 

Ms. Kearney offers the following prevention tips for parents:

Be A Good Role Model: 

Smoking is more common among teens whose parents smoke. The earlier you can stop smoking, the less likely your teen will become a smoker. A parent who successfully quits also provides an equally strong positive message. It’s not only a way to show your children how much you care about them, it also demonstrates that you understand the challenge they face. 

Appeal To Your Teen’s Vanity: 

Since most teens believe they are invincible and will not die from cancer or any other disease associated with tobacco use, parents should appeal to a teen’s vanity. Reminding them that smoking makes their clothes, hair and breath smell bad and that it can also turn their teeth yellow and cause wrinkles can be extremely effective. 

Talk Dollar And Cents: 

Teens are big consumers and generally enjoy buying clothes or electronic gadgets with whatever money they have. Explaining the current high cost of tobacco products and the effect it will have on their purchasing power can be a reality check. Do a simple math problem – if the cost of cigarettes is $10 a pack and if you smoke a pack a day, how much money will you spend in a year? In 10 years? 

Discuss The Glamorization Of Smoking: 

When you see actors smoking in TV or movies, or see ads featuring adults smoking, discuss it with your teenager. Make sure they understand that advertising and other media depictions are not real and are misleading. The majority of actors who smoke in movies are nonsmokers off the screen. Smoking does not add reality to the film – it generates revenue for the film industry. 

Become An Expert On Smoking: 

Making the case against smoking isn’t hard, but having a full grasp of all the facts and using them in ways that are relevant to your child is important. For example, discussing how smoking affects a young smoker versus the health effects on older smokers is more relevant. 

Be A Supporter And Sounding Board: 

Lecturing and ultimatums do not work; empathy and understanding are the better options. It’s unlikely that your teen will find peers who will quit with them or with whom they can even discuss quitting. 

“Parents are the single biggest influence in the lives of their children and it’s never too early to start warning your kids against smoking and other forms of tobacco use. It’s important to get into the habit of talking openly with your children when they are younger. Eight percent of middle school students are already cigarette smokers,” Dr. Andaz concludes.

For more information, educational tools and preventive assistance, Ms. Kearney recommends:

- The US Department of Health and Human Services, National Cancer Institute’s “Quit Now TXT Program,” http://teen.smokefree.gov (a mobile support, 24/7 assistance for quitting and social media pages, “a must for teens that truly speaks their language in a way they are comfortable communicating,” says Ms. Kearney);

- www.notobacco.org

- www.tobaccofree.org

- www.cdc.gov/tobacco/tips4youth.htm

- www.fda.gov/tobaccoproducts/        resourcesforyou

- American Lung Association’s smoking cessation program Freedom From Smoking, http://ffsonline.org

- NY Smoker’s Quitline: www.nysmoke free.com – 1-866-697-8487

In addition, South Nassau periodically offers smoking cessation classes. For more information, contact the Department of Community Education at (516) 377-5333.