Smoking and Your Teenager
Smoking and Your Teenager

Smoking among Ontario teens is at its lowest level since 1977. But 14% of Ontario teenagers in Grades 7 through 12 still say they smoke every day. Find out how to help your teen remain smoke-free without interfering with their need to make their own life decisions.


Nicotine Dependence

Nicotine produces physical and mood-altering effects in the brain that temporarily feel good. Small wonder many teens take up smoking - school, dating and the weight of the world can hang heavy on young shoulders. And, if all your friends are doing it, it may be much easier to light up than to say no.

But once it gets to be a regular habit, smoking is tough to give up. Blame nicotine for that. Of the thousands of toxic chemicals in a single cigarette, nicotine is the addictive element, the ingredient that makes it so tough to quit. Experts say it is as difficult to get off nicotine as it is to quit heroin or cocaine.


Keeping Your Teen from Becoming a Smoker

“If you don’t start, you don’t have to quit,” anti-smoking campaigners say. There are steps parents can take to help their children stay smoke-free.

  • Set a good example: If you smoke yourself, work hard to quit. Teen smoking is more common among teens whose parents smoke. Don’t smoke in the house, the car or, if possible, in front of your teen. Don’t leave cigarettes lying around. Talk to your teen about your habit and explain how hard it can be to quit from your own experience. Tell your teenager how it has impacted your life. Smoker or not, if your home is smoke-free, keep it that way. Make it a zone that is safe from the smell of cigarettes.
  • Understand the Pressure: Some kids smoke to fit in, others to lose weight, others to feel cool or independent. Talk to your teen about his or her views on smoking and really listen. Many kids take up smoking because they anxious or depressed, or because they lack the self-esteem to stand apart from the crowd. Try to get to the bottom of what’s causing I your child to smoke.
  • Say No to Teen Smoking: Take a stand, even if you think you won’t be heard. Make it clear that you don’t approve. Parents who do not speak up are missing an opportunity to communicate with their children and to show that they care about their health.
  • Reach Beyond the Family: Do you have a family friend or relative who is suffering as a result of a long time smoking habit? Make sure your teen is aware of their health problems and understands the link to smoking.
  • Think Beyond Cigarettes: Get the facts and don’t be fooled. Smokeless tobacco, clove cigarettes (kreteks), candy-flavoured cigarettes (bidis) and hookah smoking (smoking tobacco through a water pipe) are promoted as safer than cigarettes. But they are addictive and can cause cancer and other health problems. Many, in fact, deliver even higher concentrations of nicotine, cabon monoxiode and tar than traditional cigarettes.


Helping Your Smoking Teen Kick the Habit

While your teen still lives at home, and under your care, try to influence the habits they’ll carry into later years. Don’t abandon your role as their parent and assume they will not listen.

Consider what messages will resonate with your teen:

Warnings about heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and cancer are unlikely to make much of an impact - even though they are real concerns. Remember how immortal you felt as a young person and take a different tack.

Perhaps an appeal to vanity will work better:

  • Smoking gives you bad breath
  • Smoking makes your clothes and hair smell
  • Smoking turns your teeth and fingernails yellow
  • Smoking makes your skin look grey and unhealthy
  • Smoking can produce a hacking cough with lots of phlegm. Really attractive!
  • Smoking zaps your energy for sports and other activities.
  • Impotence twice as likely to occur in male smokers

Discuss with your teenager how cigarette companies make money selling their product to young people. Many teenagers ignore adults who nag them not to smoke. But they might think twice about listening to those other adults - the advertisers and manufacturers - who are trying to get them to start smoking and keep smoking for the rest of their lives!

Help your teen make a quit plan:

Give your teen the opportunity to make the first move to talk about quitting. If they tell you they’d like to quit, ask how you can help. Ask if any of their friends have tried to quit, and how they did it. Explore what strategies your teen thinks would work best, then add your ideas to the discussion.

Try some of these ideas:

  • Set a quit date. Help choose a date to stop smoking. Avoid stressful times like exams or the beginning of the school year.
  • Write it down. Encourage your teen to make a written list of the reasons for quitting.
  • Practice saying no. Suggest your son or daughter find a simple sentence to repeat whenever they are pressured to smoke with friends. Which friends are the heavy smokers? What should they do when they hang out with those people?
  • Consider stop-smoking medications. Review with your teen whether it would help to use nicotine patches and other medications. Maybe a talk with the family doctor would help.

  • Find a support group. If your teen is open to the idea, find a list of support groups for kids who are trying to stop smoking. Then leave it to him to make the calls.
  • Prepare for a bumpy road. Warn your son or daughter that there will be cravings and other signs of withdrawal. Encourage them to stick with their decision. Make it clear that even in the event of a relapse, they have your support and can always try again.


Your Daughter and Smoking

More and more young girls are smoking. Rates for young Canadian women under the age of 24 are higher than the average for all women. And researchers are finding that girls are, in general, heavier smokers than boys.

Researchers are also finding that young female bodies respond differently to nicotine than boys, and that the long-term health effects of smoking are different for young women than young men.

Young women who smoke risk irregularities in their menstrual cycle, fertility problems in the future, increased risk of breast and cervical cancer, and other health problems related to mixing birth control pills with smoking. Also, if they get pregnant, their unborn child is at additional risk.

Among Aboriginal children, it has been found that girls are particularly more likely to smoke, and to smoke more heavily than boys. Aboriginal girls also seem to start smoking at younger ages than Aboriginal boys.

“Drugs and tobacco can seriously affect girls’ developing bodies,” says Dr. Christine Courbasson of the Substance Use Clinic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

“Women experience more interpersonal trauma than men,” says Pamela Stewart of CAMH. She adds that girls need to be treated differently for their addiction than boys - since the reasons they smoke (or use other drugs) are often different in the first place. Girls are more likely to experience low self-esteem and battle eating disorders. They also must consider smoking’s effects on the health of their breasts and on future pregnancies.



Teen smoking begins innocently enough, but it could be the first step towards a lifelong addiction and many health problems. Trying to be there for your teenagers at the outset is the best step towards getting them to see that the healthy choice to remain smoke-free for life!



Article - Your Body on Nicotine: The Inside Story
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Article - Life After Quit Day - Not Always Smooth!
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Article - Quitting Smoking - Making the First Move
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The Canadian Cancer Society’s Smokers’ Helpline
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The Canadian Cancer Society
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The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto
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Driven to Quit Challenge
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The Smoker’s Body
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Health Canada:

Tobacco Information Centre
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Smoking & Pregnancy
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Smoking and Your Body
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Smoking Diseases
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Smoke-Free Ontario
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