Mayo Clinic Health Library

Teen smoking: 10 ways to keep teens smoke-free

Updated: 11-10-2012

Teen smoking might begin innocently, but it can become a long-term problem. In fact, most adult smokers begin smoking as teenagers. Your best bet? Help your teen avoid taking that first puff. Follow these tips to help prevent teen smoking.

1. Set a good example

Teen smoking is more common among teens whose parents smoke. If you don't smoke, keep it up. If you do smoke, quit — now. The earlier you stop smoking, the less likely your teen is to become a smoker. Ask your doctor about ways to 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 to your teen how unhappy you are with your smoking, how difficult it is to quit and that you'll keep trying until you stop smoking for good.

2. Understand the attraction

Teen smoking can be a form of rebellion or a way to fit in with a particular group of friends. Some teens begin smoking to control their weight. Others smoke to feel cool or independent.

Ask your teen how he or she feels about smoking and if any of your teen's friends smoke. Applaud your teen's good choices, and talk about the consequences of bad choices. You might also talk with your teen about how tobacco companies try to influence ideas about smoking — such as through advertisements or product placement in the movies that create the perception that smoking is glamorous and more prevalent than it really is.

3. Say no to teen smoking

You might feel as if your teen doesn't hear a word you say, but say it anyway. Tell your teen that smoking isn't allowed. Your disapproval will have more impact than you think. Teens whose parents set the firmest smoking restrictions tend to smoke less than do teens whose parents don't set smoking limits. The same goes for teens who feel close to their parents.

4. Appeal to your teen's vanity

Smoking isn't glamorous. Remind your teen that smoking is dirty and smelly. Smoking gives you bad breath and wrinkles. Smoking makes your clothes and hair smell, and it turns your teeth yellow. Smoking can leave you with a chronic cough and less energy for sports and other enjoyable activities.

5. Do the math

Smoking is expensive. Help your teen calculate the weekly, monthly or yearly cost of smoking a pack a day. You might compare the cost of smoking with that of electronic devices, clothes or other teen essentials.

6. Expect peer pressure

Friends who smoke can be convincing, but you can give your teen the tools he or she needs to refuse cigarettes. Rehearse how to handle tough social situations. It might be as simple as saying, "No thanks, I don't smoke." The more your teen practices this basic refusal, the more likely he or she will say no at the moment of truth.

7. Take addiction seriously

Most teens believe occasional smoking won't cause them to become addicted and that, if they become regular smokers, they can stop smoking anytime they want. Teens, however, can become addicted with intermittent and relatively low levels of smoking. Remind your teen that most adult smokers start as teens. Once you're hooked, it's tough to quit.

8. Predict the future

Teens tend to assume that bad things happen only to other people. Most teens think cancer, heart attacks and strokes occur only in the abstract. Use loved ones, friends, neighbors or celebrities who've been ill as real-life examples.

9. Think beyond cigarettes

Smokeless tobacco, clove cigarettes (kreteks) and candy-flavored cigarettes (bidis) are sometimes mistaken as less harmful or addictive than are traditional cigarettes. Teens also often think that water pipe (hookah) smoking is safe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kreteks, bidis and hookahs all carry health risks. Don't let your teen be fooled.

10. Get involved

Take an active stance against teen smoking. Participate in local and school-sponsored smoking prevention campaigns. Support efforts to make public places smoke-free and increase taxes on tobacco products. Your actions can help reduce the odds that your teen will become a smoker.

If your teen has already started smoking, avoid threats and ultimatums. Instead, find out why your teen is smoking — and discuss ways to help your teen quit. Avoiding or stopping smoking is one of the best things your teen can do for a lifetime of good health.