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Kids and Smoking

The health risks of tobacco are well known, but kids and teens continue to smoke and use chewing tobacco. Many young people pick up these habits every year — in fact, 90% of all adult smokers started when they were kids.

So it's important to make sure kids understand the dangers of tobacco use. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, and can cause cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. Chewing tobacco (smokeless or spit tobacco) can lead to nicotine addiction, oral cancer, gum disease, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks.

Giving kids information about the risks of smoking and chewing tobacco, and establishing clear rules and your reasons for them, can help protect them from these unhealthy habits.

You also should know the warning signs of tobacco use and constructive ways to help someone kick the habit.

The Facts About Tobacco

One of the major problems with smoking and chewing tobacco has to do with the chemical nicotine. Someone can get addicted to nicotine within days of first using it. In fact, the nicotine in tobacco can be as addictive as cocaine or heroine. Nicotine affects mood as well as the heart, lungs, stomach, and nervous system.

Other health risks include short-term effects of smoking such as coughing and throat irritation. Over time, more serious conditions may develop, including increases in heart rate and blood pressure, bronchitis, and emphysema.

Finally, numerous studies indicate that young smokers are more likely to experiment with marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or other illicit drugs.

The Attraction for Kids

Kids might be drawn to smoking and chewing tobacco for any number of reasons — to look cool, act older, lose weight, win cool merchandise, seem tough, or feel independent.

But parents can combat those draws and keep kids from trying — and getting addicted to — tobacco. Establish a good foundation of communication with your kids early on to make it easier to work through tricky issues like tobacco use.

Prevention Tips

To help prevent your kids from using tobacco, keep these guidelines in mind:

What to Watch For

If you smell smoke on your child's clothing, try not to overreact. Ask about it first — maybe he or she has been hanging around with friends who smoke or just tried one cigarette. Many kids do try a cigarette at one time or another but don't go on to become regular smokers.

Additional signs of tobacco use include:

Getting Through to Kids

Sometimes even the best foundation isn't enough to stop kids from experimenting with tobacco. It may be tempting to get angry, but it's more productive to focus on communicating with your child.

Here are some tips that may help:

If You Smoke

Kids are quick to observe any contradiction between what their parents say and what they do. Despite what you might think, most kids say that the adult whom they most want to be like when they grow up is a parent.

If you're a smoker:

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2013

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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