700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Let’s Smoke Out Tobacco: How to Talk to Your Child About Tobacco Products

Nov 19, 2020
Adult having a conversation with a child

These days, it seems as new tobacco products are being advertised everywhere. Offerings span from more “traditional” products like cigarettes, cigars, hookah, and smokeless products like chewing tobacco and snuff, to newfangled devices and products like e-cigarettes and “vape-pens.” This increasingly complicated world can be difficult for parents to navigate, and it is normal to feel overwhelmed and ill-prepared to address the topic of tobacco use with their children. The fact remains, however, that ALL these products are harmful, particularly for kids. Despite the continued glamorization of tobacco in pop culture, expert-led studies continue to show that there is NO safe form of tobacco. So, let’s review the data regarding the harms associated with tobacco use and strategize ways to keep our children, schools and communities smoke-free.

Why Is It Important to Talk About Tobacco Products?

  • Lung cancer is the leading type of cancer in both men and women, and smoking is linked to 87% of lung cancer deaths.
  • According to the American Cancer Society, smoking kills more people per year than alcohol, drugs, murder, suicide, car accidents, and AIDS, combined.
  • Tobacco use begins almost exclusively during adolescence. According to the CDC, nearly 9 out of every 10 adults who smoke cigarettes daily report starting before the age of 18. Each day in America, 1,600 youth smoke their first cigarette, and nearly 200 youth start smoking daily.

How Are Tobacco Products Harmful?

Traditional tobacco products, which include cigarettes and cigars, generate smoke which is made up of thousands of chemicals. We know that at least 70 of these chemicals have formally been linked to cancer, and many more are likely to be associated based on ongoing studies. These cancer-causing chemicals, known as “carcinogens,” are the byproducts of burning tobacco leaves and include harmful substances such as nicotine, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, ammonia and carbon monoxide.

How Do Tobacco Products Harm Others?

In children, secondhand smoke exposure has been linked to increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), ear infections, asthma attacks, and respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. In adults who have never smoked, secondhand smoke exposure can cause heart disease, lung cancer and stroke.

How Do I Talk to My Child About Tobacco Use?

In 2017, 19.5% of Ohio youth reported currently using a tobacco product. So, even if your child may not be using tobacco products, they most likely have been or will be exposed to it, particularly in high school. Here are some tips on starting the conversation with your kids:

  • Begin conversations early. Start talking to your children about smoking as early as 5 or 6 years, especially if they are asking about smoking.
  • Be an example. Keep a tobacco-free household. Parents who smoke are much more likely to have children who smoke.
  • Be direct. Tell your child you do not want them to use any form of tobacco -- and more importantly, why.
  • Share your experiences. Discuss your own experiences with tobacco. If you have never used it, consider sharing why not. You can also talk about family members or friends who regret smoking.
  • Discuss some of the undesirable physical side effects of smoking, like yellow teeth and nails, bad breath and smelly clothes, and skin wrinkles.
  • When talking with teenagers make sure to be a good listener and try not to interrupt. Ask for more details if needed. Remember that it’s okay to respectfully disagree. Make sure to discuss serious health problems, such as cancer and heart disease.

If My Child Is Using Tobacco, How Can I Help Them Quit?

Quitting smoking can be hard, but it is not impossible. According to the CDC, in 2019 more than half of all youth tobacco users reported making a serious attempt to quit in the previous year. Here are some tips to help them along the way:

  • Pick a quit date together, then celebrate by throwing the tobacco in the trash!
  • Encourage your child to let family and friends know about the decision to quit, and ask for their support.
  • Ask your child’s doctor about ways to quit smoking. Your child may be a candidate for nicotine replacement therapy in the form of chewing gum, patches or throat lozenges, which can curb cravings.
  • Telephone-based or virtual counseling and support groups are also available.

Are E-cigarettes Safer?

In recent years, e-cigarettes have quickly become the most frequently used tobacco product among youth. E-cigarettes are often thought of as a “safer” alternative to cigarettes, however given their relative novelty, little is known about the long-term effects of their use. Learn more about e-cigarettes.

Nationwide Children’s offers school-based health services at several Central Ohio schools. Learn more at NationwideChildrens.org/Care-Connection. To find a doctor near you, call (614)  722-KIDS.

Featured Expert

Ashley Parikh, CPNP-PC
Primary Care Pediatrics

Ashley Parikh, CPNP-PC is a nurse practitioner in the School-Based Health Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She began her career in school health as an NP in NYC after graduating from New York University. She has practiced in an elementary school in the Bronx and a high school in Queens. She is excited to continue her career in school health in Ohio as providing primary care services in the school-based setting is her passion.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.