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Keep Your Teen Smoke-Free

Revisit The Message That Smoking Is Bad When Your Child Becomes a Teenager

As your child grows, you work to instill good manners, help him learn how to interact with peers and teach him how to read. You reinforce habits and behaviors that model your values, and you attempt to ensure your child eats healthy balanced meals. Among the countless lessons parents aim to teach their young children, it can be easy to overlook reinforcing some values in your older child that you confidently instilled in him as a toddler.

Commenting that smoking is bad for a person's health or discouraging a toddler from pretending to smoke is an obvious action for parents. As tweens and teens develop personalities, attitudes and interests, revisiting the basic message that smoking is a detrimental habit becomes as vital to your child's well being as learning to read.

Your child's mounting independence opens the door to a dangerous world of numerous physical and emotional health risks. With the increasing amount of peer pressure our children must face, and the glamorous images splayed on movie and television screens, youth tobacco use remains a prevalent threat to the health and safety of our children.

Where the Smoke Is

If all stores, vending machines and gas stations strictly adhered to the laws which prohibit selling tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18, it would be understandable to wonder how are our children obtain cigarettes. A study conducted by The Centers for Disease Control reveal that 30 percent of smokers under 18 give someone else money to purchase cigarettes, and 25 percent borrow tobacco products from someone else. Another 18 percent either purchase cigarettes from vending machines, steal them from a store, peer or family member, or acquire them through other creative alternatives.

Teens and tweens smoke at bus stops, tucked behind dumpsters in the back of restaurants and convenient stores, and in their backyards when they're home alone. They concoct elaborate cover-ups, such as brushing their teeth and using mouthwash after every cigarette, frequently reapplying cologne and blaming the odor of smoke that lingers on their clothes on a stranger who sat near them in a restaurant.

Tom Shanski, spokesperson for the United States Fire Administration says that every year more than 1000 children under the age of 18 are injured as a direct result of youth smoking. "Every year, participating in or being in the presence of, careless youth smoking leads to injury or death in smokers under the age of 18," he says. Further emphasizing his passionate stance, Shanski adds, "Every incidence of a child being burned, or in a fire started by children smoking is 100-percent preventable. We need to take a definitive stance against youths beginning smoking to prevent further injuries or deaths as a result of teen smoking related fires."

Who Is Prone to Smoking?

Although children who live with one or more people that smoke have a higher risk of smoking themselves, many children who grow up in smoke-free environments take up this risky habit. "Children who struggle to cope with stress, or alleviating stress, and those who have extreme difficulties in school are at risk to start smoking even if they live in a smoke free home," says Dr. Michelle Splitt, child and family therapist in Annapolis, Md.

Contrary to beliefs that only young boys use smoking as a tool to boost their image, esteem or "cool factor," Splitt adds that girls are just as likely to smoke as boys. "Girls are more easily addicted to nicotine than boys, and female smokers are more likely to die of lung cancer than males who smoke the same number of cigarettes," she says. In 1977, 40 percent of girls smoked, however this number decreased to 26 percent in 1992. Five years later the percentage of girls smoking jumped up to 35 percent in 1997. One reason for this alarming statistic is the tremendous amount of advertising aimed at seducing girls into smoking because it is sexy, fun or a way to show their independence.

Peer pressure plays a significant role in a child's decision to begin smoking. Having friends who smoke or who are contemplating smoking can increase the chances that your child will take up this dangerous habit. Statistics gathered by The National Research Center for Women and Families detail that children as young as 10 years old contemplate smoking. The Center's study also determined that if a child graduates high school having never started smoking, he or she has an extremely high rate of never developing a penchant to smoke.

Putting out the Flame

Consistent, proactive involvement during your child's teen and tween years is critical to prevent or eliminate your child's use of tobacco. In order for your child to respect your opinions and trust in your supportive guidance regarding smoking, he must feel you trust and respect him. By assuming he's not telling you the truth that he has not started smoking or that he is predisposed to giving into smoking peer pressure, you may be setting both of you up for failure. "If your child senses you distrust him, he may feel defeated and give into the peer pressure," says Dr. Michael Tjaden, a pediatrician in Barrington, Ill.

If your teen or tween is fighting the heavy burden of smoking peer pressure, have an open, honest discussion with him to help him determine why his friends smoke, to understand your deep concern for his health, and to fully understand his position on smoking. Help him see that many children who begin smoking do so because they feel inadequate or are hoping to boost their image.

Dr. Tjaden recommends presenting the truthful facts about smoking and enlisting help from your child's pediatrician or family doctor for educational materials. "A child's teen and tween years is the perfect time to help your child identify why he or she may be personally interested in smoking and how those interests can be channeled in a more healthy and productive manner," he says. "Talking with a health care professional may have a deeper impact on a child who is rebelling against his parents or is looking for attention."

Whether your child has or has not already started smoking, remember that as parent, you are in control of many factors that may contribute to smoking in the first place. Combine truthful education regarding the serious health risks associated with smoking, with the consequences imposed at home, to dissuade your child from beginning or continuing smoking. Establish rewarding goals that help boost self-confidence in order to help your child avoid smoking and the peers who give pressure to smoke. Attending sports camps or music lessons creates a safe diversion that allows your child a creative outlet to excess energy, frustration or boredom that may otherwise lead to tobacco use.

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