By Lisa Ellis
InteliHealth Staff Writer
You see the kids walking down the street, cigarettes dangling from hand or mouth, and you wonder: Why do they smoke? Don't they know this addiction can kill them?
You also wonder: Will this happen to my son or daughter? Or maybe you suspect that your child already is smoking.
There's good reason to worry. Almost 90% of smokers begin the habit at or before age 18. Each day, an estimated 3,900 adolescents smoke their first cigarette, and nearly 1,000 others turn into daily smokers. Often, they start very young. About 2 out of 10 children try a cigarette by the end of eighth grade. Nearly 6 out of 10 try smoking by the end of high school.
All of this adds up to about 2.8 million regular smokers under 18 in the United States. Each year, more than 350,000 kids join them. If they don't quit, about one-third of them will die prematurely because of smoking.
The good news, of course, is that not everyone who tries a cigarette becomes a smoker. Studies have shown that many children have misconceptions about smoking. Information can make a difference.
Take our quiz, which offers some facts about smoking that may surprise you and your teen. While you're comparing your scores, take the opportunity to make it clear to your child that you hope he or she will never smoke.
Your own behavior also can make a difference. Here are some steps you can take, adapted from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a nonprofit educational organization:
- If you smoke, quit. Children who have a parent who smokes are more likely to smoke than children of nonsmokers. If you quit, studies show that your children will be less likely to start smoking, and more likely to quit if they smoke now.
- If you have not managed to quit smoking yet, tell your children how hard it is and keep trying.
- Don't allow smoking in your home. Children from homes where smoking is off-limits are less likely to become smokers, even if their parents smoke. You also will be protecting your family from health problems including asthma and other respiratory problems related to secondhand smoke.
- Tell your children that you don't want them to smoke. Parents' attitudes do affect whether children smoke, even if the parents smoke themselves.