Every day, 3,600 kids between the ages of 12 and 17 start smoking, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A fact sheet on youth and tobacco use states that 20 percent of high school students in the United States were current smokers in 2007. Ninety percent of adults who smoke are likely to have started smoking as kids, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). These numbers are startling and continue to be a cause for concern. The fact is, kids continue to start smoking despite the fact that there is so much information and statistical data available that ought to deter them. It is the responsibility of parents, caregivers, teachers and mentors to help kids understand the dangers of smoking. This article offers tips and step-by-step instructions to help you in the process.
Talk to them early and often. Even young children can understand the idea that something is bad for their body. So, emphasize the dangers of smoking. According to studies by the CDC, some of the primary factors responsible for youth tobacco use include low socioeconomic status, low levels of academic achievement, low self-image, and peer approval or use by peers. So, it is important to play up the positive effects of staying healthy and not smoking, instead of dwelling on the dangers of smoking alone. The most effective way of preventing kids from smoking is to empower them with the knowledge that it is entirely a choice they make. Tell them how beautiful, strong, talented, intelligent and cool they are. Instill in your kids positive self-image and remind them of their potential and everything they could be, if they so choose. When kids know how much they can achieve by staying healthy, strong non-smokers, they are less likely to be enticed by the idea of smoking.
Be candid. Do not sugarcoat the dangers. According to a tobacco control fact sheet published by CDC, examining dangers of smoking in youth, both immediate and long-term health risks are increased, when one starts smoking earlier. The earlier smoking starts, the higher the risk of lung cancer, heart disease and other conditions. Smoking also makes kids less physically fit, reduces immunity and increases respiratory diseases, according to this report. It is the No. 1 cause of preventable deaths in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately one-third of the more than 3000 kids who start smoking everyday will die of smoking related diseases. Give your kids the facts and give it time to sink in. Talk about the addictive effects of nicotine and the fact that what starts out as one trial smoke can lead to a lifetime of addiction. Show them the statistics so they know this is not another rule you are making up just to prevent them from having fun. The message that smoking can harm them in very real, painful ways should reach them loud and clear.
Listen to your kids. An article reviewed by Dr. Steven Dowshen, M.D., a Pediatric Endocrinologist and chief medical editor at KidsHealth.org, suggests asking your kids what appeals or does not appeal to them about smoking. Find out how they feel about smoking and how they perceive it. Are media images influencing their choice? Is there something they would like to know or talk about? Make sure you really listen when they tell you. That way, you can come up with ways to counter the problem together and nip it at an early stage. Avoid lecturing or nagging.
Show them the effects of smoking, rather than just stopping with the facts. These could be images of people with cancer in books, documentaries and hospitals, exhibitions such as Bodies that have exhibits showing healthy lungs and a smoker’s lungs, and people you know who are suffering from or have succumbed to the effects of smoking. When they actually see a person suffering or realize that they have lost one of their friends or family members to smoking, the reality is bound to hit harder.
Provide positive examples of real-life heroes who are non-smokers. Although media often portrays celebrities as smokers, there are athletes, artists, entertainers, authors and successful professionals in every field who do not smoke. Use them as motivational role models and examples to show your kids that they can be popular and successful without having to smoke.
Get them to talk to a smoker. If you know someone who is a chain smoker and who has been trying to quit, ask them to talk to your kids. With his permission, you can encourage your kids to ask him questions so they can learn from the horse’s mouth that smoking is, in fact, not as fashionable or a symbol of maturity, as often portrayed.
Discuss other dangers such as environmental pollution, secondary smoke and the fast deterioration of youthful appearance. Secondary smoke affects young kids, infants, the fetus, even pets. You could also talk to kids about how expensive cigarettes are and how the amount they spend on cigarettes quickly adds up over the months or years. The AACAP suggests pointing out other short-term effects include bad breath, clothes that stink, yellowed nails and shortness of breath–which are likely to influence kids’ decision to a great extent.