All over the country smoking is disappearing from homes, restaurants and offices. Unfortunately there’s one place where you can still see lots of smokers: on any street corner near a high school or junior high campus. While adults are giving up the habit, smoking is on the rise among youths.
When young people are asked why they began smoking, they give two answers: to be like their friends, and to rebel against authority. Girls add a further reason: to keep their weight down. Tragically, by the time they graduate, most girls have tried—and failed—to quit. Most teens don’t know until it’s too late that smoking is dangerous to their health, and that nicotine is one of the most addictive of all drugs.
The reasons teens give for smoking provide important clues to what you can do to get them to stop, or to avoid smoking. Of course, it’s important that they know the hazards of smoking—too many teenagers have never been told that smoking causes cancer and heart disease. But often teenagers don’t think about their health. They think about fitting in, looking right, being accepted by their peers and rebelling against their parents. The more you tell them smoking is bad, the more rebellious they will feel doing it.
Tobacco companies know this. And they know that the teen market is their most important one—most people begin smoking in their teens. Cigarette ads pitch the typical smoker as adult, cool and fashionable. Smoking is shown in a party atmosphere where everyone is good looking and clearly has lots of friends.
One of the best strategies for combating this image is to stress tobacco’s effect on personal attractiveness. Surveys show that teens, whether they smoke or not, are turned off by the bad breath, smelly clothes and hair, and yellow teeth of smokers.
Steering teens toward peer groups that don’t smoke is another strategy. Teens need the approval of their friends. If their best friends are not smoking, teens are unlikely to take up the habit. Find extracurricular activities, such as sports, theater groups, scouting and so forth, and offer to support your teen’s participation with transportation and attendance at functions. Support education programs that feature older teens who have quit smoking because of the health hazards and other undesirable effects. Start early—the average teen smoker begins at age 14.
Of course, if you smoke yourself, you’re going to have an uphill battle. Children whose parents smoke are more likely to become smokers themselves. Why not quit now and get your teens to help you? They’ll not only feel empowered by their role in improving your health; they’ll also experience up close the struggle to kick the habit, hopefully before they become addicted themselves.
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