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Kids and Smoking


The health risks of smoking 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 smoking and using chewing tobacco:

Talking with your kids about the risks of these products and setting clear rules about not using them can help protect them from these unhealthy habits. 

The Facts About Smoking and Tobacco

One reason that smoking and chewing tobacco are major health hazards is because they contain 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 heroin. Which means that once a person starts to smoke, it's very hard to stop.

Smoking and tobacco use can harm every body system and lead to health problems such as heart disease, stroke, emphysema (breakdown of lung tissue), and many types of cancer — including lung, throat, stomach, and bladder cancer. People who smoke also have an increased risk of infections like bronchitis and pneumonia.

Besides these long-term problems, tobacco and other chemicals can affect the body quickly. They increase heart rate and raise blood pressure, which can harm athletic performance. They also irritate the throat, cause bad breath, and damage the airways, causing the well-known "smoker's cough."

Finally, many studies show that young smokers are more likely to experiment with marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or other 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, seem tough, or feel independent.

But parents can combat those draws and keep kids from trying — and getting addicted to — smoking and chewing 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 smoking and using chewing 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.

Other signs of tobacco use include:

Getting Through to Kids

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

Here are some tips that may help:

If You Smoke

Kids are quick to spot 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:

Date reviewed: June 2016


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

© 1995- The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.

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