Smoking - how to discourage your children
Eighty per cent of adult smokers commenced smoking before the age of 18 years and one third of adult smokers first tried cigarettes before the age of nine years. Smoking is an addictive habit that causes or contributes to a wide range of diseases including cancers, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema). The best protection against these smoking-related illnesses is never to smoke in the first place. However, children entering their teenage years are experimental, curious and vulnerable to peer pressure. Whether your child becomes a smoker or not is ultimately their decision. It is not always possible for parents to prevent their child from trying cigarettes, but the use of various strategies can reduce the likelihood of a child wanting to smoke or becoming a regular smoker.
Children and smoking
Selected statistics include:
By the time the average child reaches three years of age, they are familiar with cigarettes and used to seeing people smoke.
A child is more likely to smoke if they perceive themselves to be a poor student.
Primary school boys are more likely than primary school girls to try smoking.
Of children aged 15 years, girls (24%) are slightly more likely to smoke than boys (21%).
Between one quarter and one half of boys have tried smoking by the time they reach high school.
Between one sixth and one third of girls have tried smoking by the time they reach high school.
Around 65% of 16 year olds have tried smoking.
Around 269,000 boys and girls at school aged 12 to 17 years are current smokers. If they were all to continue to smoke, it is estimated that around 134,000 would die prematurely from smoking.
Why children smoke
Some of the reasons why your child may choose to smoke cigarettes include:
Peer pressure and the desire to fit in with friends
The wish to assert their growing independence
The desire to appear more grown up and sophisticated
Be a good role model
If you don't want your child to smoke, it is important to set a good example by being a non-smoker yourself. Research shows that children are less likely to smoke if their primary role models are non-smokers. If you have found quitting difficult and are still a smoker, share your experiences with your child. For example, tell them how demoralising it feels to be hooked on smoking when you don't want to be, or how much money you begrudge wasting on cigarettes over the years. Let them see they can learn a valuable lesson from your mistake. Ask for their support during your next quit attempt. If your child can witness how tough quitting cigarettes can be, they may want to steer clear of smoking completely.
Take a stand against smoking
Other suggestions to reinforce the non-smoking message include:
Don't permit anyone to smoke in your home.
Don't send your child to buy cigarettes for you or anyone else.
Encourage sport and physical activity for all family members.
Discuss the issue of smoking with your child when seeing other people smoke.
Educate your child
Many smoking-related illnesses tend to become symptomatic in middle or later life. Trying to explain the long term risks of smoking to a child or teenager may not have much of an impact, since 20 or 30 years or more into the future is an unimaginable eternity to them. Mention these risks, but try to emphasise the immediate risks to their health and wellbeing.
Reduced fitness levels
Nasty smelling breath
Stained teeth and fingers
Reduced appeal to non-smoking peers
Wasting money that could be used for clothes or CDs
The difficulty of controlling the habit once addiction to nicotine takes hold.
What to do if your child is already smoking
If your child is already smoking, or if you suspect they may be, try to avoid angry confrontations. Threats and bullying rarely work. Instead, attempt a reasonable 'adult-to-adult' conversational tone. Find out what they find appealing about cigarettes. For example, peer pressure is important. Don't try to force your child to stop seeing friends of theirs who smoke.
You could try expressing your disapproval about smoking, while allowing your child to indulge other conformist behaviours such as buying the same style of clothes as their friends. Alternatively, help your child to question the value of always following the crowd. Use this as an opportunity to encourage your child to think and act independently.
Things to remember
Research shows that children are less likely to smoke if their primary role models -their parents -are non-smokers.
If you have found quitting difficult and are still a smoker, share your experiences with your child and help them learn from your mistake.
Emphasise the immediate risks of smoking to your child's health and wellbeing, such as bad breath and less money in their pocket.