Mayo Clinic Health Library

Teen smoking: How to help your teen quit

Updated: 11-08-2012

Teen smoking is a big deal. After all, teens who smoke are likely to turn into adults who smoke.

If you find your teen smoking, take it seriously. Stopping teen smoking in its tracks is the best way to promote a lifetime of good health.

Set a good example

As a parent, you're one of the most powerful influences in your teen's life — and your actions speak louder than your words. If you smoke, don't expect your teen to stop smoking. Your teen likely interprets your smoking as an endorsement for the behavior. Instead, ask your doctor about stop-smoking products and other resources to help you stop smoking.

In the meantime, don't smoke in the house, in the car or in front of your teen, and don't leave cigarettes where your teen might find them. Explain how unhappy you are with your smoking, and why it's so important to you to quit.

Start talking

You could simply tell your teen to stop smoking. It's an important message. But commands, threats and ultimatums aren't likely to work. Instead of getting angry, be curious and supportive. Ask your teen what made him or her start smoking. Perhaps your teen is trying to fit in at school, or maybe your teen thinks that smoking will help relieve stress. Sometimes teen smoking is an attempt to feel cool or more grown-up.

Once you understand why your teen is smoking, you'll be better equipped to address smoking as a potential problem — as well as help your teen eventually stop smoking.

Encourage your teen to share his or her concerns

Although the consequences of smoking — such as cancer, heart attack and stroke — are real, they're probably beyond the realm of your teen's concern.

Rather than lecturing your teen on the long-term dangers of smoking, ask your teen what he or she considers the negative aspects of smoking. Once your teen has had his or her say, offer your own list of negatives. Consider appealing to your teen's vanity:

  • Smoking gives you bad breath.
  • Smoking makes your clothes and hair smell.
  • Smoking turns your teeth and fingernails yellow.
  • Smoking causes wrinkles.
  • Smoking leaves you with a hacking cough.
  • Smoking zaps your energy for sports and other activities.

Of course, smoking is also expensive. Prompt your teen to calculate the weekly, monthly or yearly cost of smoking. You might compare the cost of smoking with electronic devices, clothes or other items your teen considers important.

Help your teen make a plan

Teens can become addicted to nicotine surprisingly quickly — sometimes within just a few weeks of experimenting with smoking. While many teens who smoke think they can stop anytime, research shows this isn't usually true.

When you talk to your teen about stopping smoking, ask if any of his or her friends have tried to stop smoking. Consider why they were — or weren't — successful. Then ask your teen which stop-smoking strategies he or she thinks might be most helpful. Offer your own suggestions as well:

  • Put it on paper. Encourage your teen to write down why he or she wants to stop smoking. The list can help your teen stay motivated when temptation arises.
  • Set a quit date. Help your teen choose a date to stop smoking. Avoid placing the stop date during a stressful time, such as final exams.
  • Hang out with friends who don't smoke. Would your teen's friends support your teen's stop-smoking plan? Would they try to stop smoking, too? If your teen feels pressured to smoke, encourage him or her to get involved in new activities. Making new friends who don't smoke could make it easier to avoid friends who aren't willing to stop smoking.
  • Practice saying no. Peer pressure to smoke might be inevitable, but your teen doesn't need to give in. Help your teen practice saying, "No thanks, I don't smoke."
  • Be prepared for cravings. Remind your teen that if he or she can hold out long enough — usually just a few minutes — the nicotine craving will pass. Suggest taking a few deep breaths. Offer sugarless gum, cinnamon sticks, toothpicks or straws to help your teen keep his or her mouth busy.
  • Consider stop-smoking products. Although nicotine replacement products — such as nicotine gums, patches, inhalers or nasal sprays — weren't designed for teens, they might be helpful in some cases. Ask your teen's doctor which options might be best for your teen.
  • Seek support. Contact a tobacco-cessation specialist. A tobacco-cessation specialist can give your teen the tools and support he or she needs to stop smoking. Some hospitals and local organizations offer stop-smoking groups just for teens. You might look for teen groups online, too. Web-based programs can also provide support for your teen whenever he or she needs it.

If your teen slips, remain supportive. Congratulate your teen on the progress he or she has made so far, and encourage your teen not to give up. Help your teen identify what went wrong and what to do differently next time.

Above all, celebrate your teen's success. You might offer a favorite meal for a smoke-free day, a new shirt for a smoke-free week or a party with nonsmoking friends for a smoke-free month. Rewards and positive reinforcement can help your teen maintain the motivation to stop smoking for good.