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.
About 18% of U.S. high school students and 4.5% of eighth graders are regular smokers. All of this adds up to about 3.5 million regular smokers under 18 in the United States. 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.
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.
www.tobaccofreekids.org. Calculated based on data in National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2011, survey of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, United States, 2011, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 61(No. 4), June 8, 2012. www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6104.pdf. Quoted in Tobacco Use Among Youth, fact sheet from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, accessed June 2014 at www.tobaccofreekids.org.  University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future Study, 2013, www.monitoringthefuture.org/data/13data/13tobtbl1.pdf.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress, A Report of the Surgeon General, 2014. www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/50-years-of-progress/. CDC, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, United States, 2011, MMWR, 61(No. 4), June 8, 2012; 2011. Quoted in Tobacco Use Among Youth, fact sheet from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, accessed June 2014 at www.tobaccofreekids.org.  Gilman, SE, et al., Parental Smoking and Adolescent Smoking Initiation: An Intergenerational Perspective on Tobacco Control, Pediatrics, 123(2): e274-e281, February 2009. Also Bauman, K., et al., Effect of parental smoking classification on the association between parental and adolescent smoking, Addictive Behaviors, Volume 15, No. 5, pp. 413-22, 1990.  Farkas, A., et al., Does parental smoking cessation discourage adolescent smoking? Preventive Medicine, Volume 28, No. 3, pp. 213-8, March 1999.  Gilpin et al., Home smoking restrictions: Which smokers have them and how they are associated with smoking behavior, Nicotine and Tobacco Research, Volume 1, pp. 153-62, 1999; also Proescholdbell, R., et al., Home smoking restrictions and adolescent smoking, Nicotine and Tobacco Research, Volume 2, No. 2, pp. 159-67, 2000.  Sargent, J., et al, Strong parental disapproval of smoking prevents adolescents from becoming established smokers, Pediatric Research 47 (4 supp): 11A (abstract 63), 2000. Also see Distefan, J., et al., Parental influences predict adolescent smoking in the United States, 1989-1993, Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 22, pp. 466-74, 1998.">