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How to Talk to Your Kids about Tobacco

Youth who make it to the age of 19 without using tobacco will probably never smoke in their lives.
Explain the reality
If your child is concerned about appearance, talk about the way smoking causes bad breath, stinky hair and clothes, stains on fingers and teeth, and hair loss.
Your child will probably be shocked to learn just what goes into a cigarette. Give them a tour of the garage, basement, or under the kitchen sink where you might have some of these chemicals – acetone (nail polish remover), toluene (paint thinner), benzene (gasoline), cadmium (batteries), phenol (disinfectant) – all of which are inhaled with each cigarette.
If your child is physically active or into sports, talk about the shortness of breath and loss of endurance that tobacco causes.
Talk about the money it takes to use tobacco for a week, for a year. What else could they buy with that money?
Let your child know that most people do not use tobacco.
Remember it is never too early to talk about tobacco.
When you talk to your kids about not using tobacco, you give them more than just good advice, you give them a solid defense strategy to say “no”.
Remember that kids often seem to be defying authority when what they really want are tips they can use to help them resist peer pressure.
What if you use tobacco yourself?
If you use tobacco, it is even more important to talk to your children about the effects of tobacco. Your kids will likely challenge you: “If you smoke, why can’t I?” They are also more likely to use tobacco than other kids. But studies show you can reduce that risk if you talk to them about it.
How to start?
  • Start at the beginning. Explain why you started. Your friends smoked. You thought it was adult. You thought it was risky and exciting. You thought you could control it. You didn’t know it was addictive.
  • Talk about what it’s like to be addicted. Share what it’s been like trying to quit.
  • Show that you think using tobacco isn’t healthy. Don’t use tobacco in their presence. Smoke outside at home, don’t smoke in the car and ask others to do the same.
  • Your first conversation about tobacco shouldn’t be your last. The pressures that play a part in a child experimenting with tobacco or other drugs continues through adolescence into adulthood. Keep up the conversation! 
Practice makes perfect
Chances are your child will be offered a cigarette or another form of tobacco. Try to prepare him or her to say no – before the situation arises. Ask if any of the following options would work for them or make up new ones together.
  • “No thanks, I don’t want my clothes to stink.”
  • “My girlfriend (or boyfriend) has a problem with kissing ashtrays, so I’ll say no.”
  • “Why would I want to smoke?”
  • “I’m excited about making the team and I think tobacco will slow me down.”
  • “No thanks, I don’t want to chance getting hooked. I see people spending $75 a week on cigarettes.”
  • “Cancer runs in our family, so I don’t want to push my luck.” 
Adapted with permission from the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission.
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