Teen Smoking: What to Know, What to Do

teen boy smoking

The pungent smell of cigarette smoke often lingers on your teen's clothing. How can you find out if that is because she stood next to someone who was smoking or if she's lighting up? What are the things you should know about teen smoking, and what can you do about it?

If you want to figure out if your teen has started smoking, stay on the lookout for these signs:

  • A recurring sore throat

  • Dark stains on his/her teeth

  • Frequent colds

  • Burns and cigarette odor on your teen's clothing

  • Lower energy levels/declining athletic vigor or skill

teen girl smoking

Key Points about Teen Smoking

Did you know that most adult smokers start the habit during their adolescent years? Here are some of the key points about teenage smoking:

  • About 68 percent of grownups that smoke every day say they started by the time they were 18 years old.

  • Nearly 3,900 kids below the age of 18 years experiment with cigarettes, and over 950 of them will adopt smoking as a daily habit.

  • Those who start smoking early in life are more likely (than adults) to stick with it until it progresses toward serious nicotine addiction.

Best Approaches for Best Results

Teens are drawn to cigarette smoking for a variety of reasons: in order to look "cool," seem grown-up, act tough, or lose weight. When parents find out about it, the teen may lash out with excuses or statements like, "Lots of non-smokers die of cancer without ever having a cigarette!" Or, "I really like the way they smell and taste." "It's something to put in my mouth instead of food when I feel stressed."

How can you best talk to your teen about the dangers of smoking? Parenting experts say it's vital to start the conversation as early as you can in your child's life. That way, it makes it easier to deal with cigarette smoking as she gets further into the teenage years. Here are some tips:

  • Don't lecture or dictate. Your teen will probably tune you out if you give her a "talking-to" about the harms of smoking. Try asking questions instead such as, "Why do you like cigarette smoking?"

  • Chat about other aspects of smoking. For example, discuss the cost of smoking (and how much less cash she'll have). Or, mention that smoking can create bad breath, stain teeth, and make skin turn yellow. (This can sometimes work better than explaining the health effects that develop later in life.)

  • Help your teen make a "quit plan." Despite the fact that your teen tells you it's easy to stop smoking, ask if she can commit to going without smoking for a week. Give her lots of moral support along the way. After all, it will be your adolescent's ultimate decision to stop smoking!

teens partying

Resources for Parents and Teens

Many local, state, and national programs are available to help prevent or reduce tobacco use among teens. Some of these include:

  • Nemours Foundation, a non-profit group that has programs for teens and parents to assist with tobacco use issues. (kidshealth.org)

  • Not-On-Tobacco, a program from the American Lung Association (ALA) to help teens quit smoking.

  • Freedom from Smoking, another program through the ALA, specifically geared to adults.

In addition to these programs, you and your teen can reap the benefits of other quit-smoking programs and awareness campaigns:

  • Media messages geared to young people that are designed to counteract the marketing of cigarettes.

  • Educational programs in schools and communities (e.g., cigarette-free campuses).

By unraveling the facts about teen tobacco use, you'll arm yourself with information and resources to help your teen if she should decide someday to light up a cigarette or two...