The common reasons young people begin using tobacco products are easy to identify. First-time users typically have an adult or sibling smoker in their home and that family connection often enables less restrictive access to cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
Young smokers also admit that they initially light up because they are drawn by the notion that smoking is a perceived as a grown-up activity or they feel peer pressure to emulate their friends who smoke. Of course, people this age aren’t generally inclined to stop and read a Surgeon General’s warning label or consider the myriad of other negative aspects of tobacco use.
It’s also interesting to note that most teen smokers claim that they’ll be non-smokers within five years. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case for the majority who sadly turn a short-term fascination with tobacco into a life-long, although often life-shortening, addiction.
While it’s relatively simple to determine why kids smoke, health professionals are continually challenged to find ways to prevent them from taking that first drag off of a cigarette or dip in a can of chewing tobacco.
Given its addictive properties and significant health implications, it’s obvious that the best way to stop smoking is to not start in the first place. Most long-time smokers would agree. When polled, nearly 80 percent of adult smokers state that they wish they had never started smoking and would sincerely like to quit. When you consider this overwhelmingly high percentage, it’s stunning just how many of these remorseful smokers produce teen and even pre-teen children who smoke. Beyond shaking our heads at the irony of this situation, we wonder why some parents don’t (or won’t) take a firmer stand when it comes to their kids and tobacco use.
The hard fought victory against tobacco producers had an early payoff as the number of first-time adolescent smokers showed a steady decline between 1997 and 2003. Unfortunately, the significant progress that was made appears to be slowly eroding as an estimated 4,000 young Americans age 12-17 will light their first cigarette today.
Clearly, parents who smoke need to take a more active role to keep their kids from trying tobacco. Talking to teens about smoking, especially if you’re a smoker, can be difficult, but that’s no reason to avoid the topic.
Targeting kids through the school system is a good approach. Targeting their parents who smoke at home and convincing them to join the fight against teen smoking may be even more effective. Parents who quit — with all the difficulty that involves — provide their kids with a great reason to never start.