Smokers start young. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nearly 90 percent of adult smokers start before the age of 18. Because their brains are still forming, adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the addictive effects of nicotine. These facts present both a problem and an opportunity for a solution. The problem is that young people who try tobacco and other nicotine products can easily get hooked. The solution is keeping young people tobacco-free and nicotine-free through the critical adolescent and young adult years.
But the tobacco companies aren’t making that solution easy. Tobacco companies spend billions targeting young people with new products made with flavors like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, grape and watermelon. While flavored cigarettes are no longer allowed to be marketed in the United States due to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act, the regulations do not cover other tobacco and nicotine products. That loophole has led to a wide range of flavored products, including e-cigarettes, snus, smokeless tobacco, little cigars, and nicotine orbs and lozenges, all flavored and packaged like candy. Unfortunately for today’s kids, the tobacco companies’ tactics are working.
What you Can Do
Talking to your kids about tobacco can help them understand its danger and help them make the choice to be tobacco-free for life.
Start Early
By the time they’re five or six years old, children can understand simple messages about healthy choices. Tell them that tobacco is harmful, can make them sick, and must be avoided in all its forms. With all the new tobacco and nicotine products available, it’s important to go beyond talking about cigarettes. Many other tobacco products are flavored and packaged like candy. Educate your children on the harms of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
Keep At It
The “tobacco talk” isn’t a one-time issue. Kids will be exposed to tobacco products and marketing, and as they get older they may be pressured by their peers to try smoking or other tobacco products. Be consistent and reinforce the message over time.
Give Them More Information
As they get older, provide more specific information about why tobacco is harmful: the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and other diseases. Show them “Tips from Former Smokers” videos of real people who have been harmed by tobacco. Be specific about how it could harm them, such as reducing their ability to play sports or engage in other activities they enjoy. Kids age 10 to 12 can understand the concept of addiction. Tell them that nicotine is a drug, and using it can make you crave it and make it hard to stop.
Set a Good Example
Keep your home smoke-free. If you smoke, quit and tell them why you’re quitting. Explain that it’s hard, and if they never start, they’ll never have to struggle with quitting. If you have friends or family who smoke, ask them not to do so in your home, and explain the harms of secondhand smoke to your kids. Share stories of family members who have been harmed by tobacco use.
Talk About Tobacco Tactics
Tobacco companies need replacement smokers. Tell your kids they’re being targeted. Show them how candy and fruit-flavored products and slick marketing campaigns are aimed at tricking them into using tobacco. Talk to them about the harms of all tobacco products, including small cigars, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes. Tell them smoking doesn’t make you cool. It makes you a tool of the tobacco industry. Challenge them to show they’re smarter than the tobacco companies and can’t be tricked or manipulated into using tobacco or nicotine products.
Encourage Them to Be Tobacco-Free Advocates
Kids are heavily influenced by their peers. Encourage your kids to participate in tobacco-free programs, activities and organizations. Show them tobacco-free videos made by other kids their age. Explain how they can help their friends make smart choices, and how they can be part of a movement to “Finish It” and keep their generation tobacco-free for life.