Stamping Out Teen Smoking

by: Katy Abel
Find out how to help teenagers quit smoking.
Table of contents

Stamping Out Teen Smoking

Teen Smoking Rates Decline, but Quitting Is Still a Challenge

Sixteen-year-old Haley A.'s New Year's resolution is to not criticize other people. As admirable asthat goal may be, Haley's mother wishes her daughter had made another resolve: to quit smoking. But the teenis indifferent to the idea. She enjoys smoking, and at five or six cigarettes a day, does not believe she isaddicted to nicotine.

"I think if I had something to motivate me, I could stop really easily," Haley says. "For me, it's a boredomthing. Whenever I'm bored, it's something to do."

The honor roll student who says she's the only smoker in her circle of friends is bucking a national trend.Monitoring the Future, a new survey released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and theUniversity of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, shows teen smoking in grades 8, 10, and 12 isdeclining "at a vigorous pace." This is a direct contrast to the early 1990s, when researchers saw a dramaticincrease in the number of teens lighting up. Among eighth-graders, smoking rates fell from 21 percentin 1996 to 12 percent in 2001; and among tenth-graders, from 30 percent to 21 percent. Among high-schoolseniors, smoking rates dropped from 37 percent in 1997 to 30 percent in 2001.

The study attributed the decreases to the demise of the Joe Camel ad campaign, the increase in anti-smokingads, and the jump in cigarette prices in most states.

"Young people are price-sensitive in their use of cigarettes," says the study's principal investigator,Dr. Lloyd D. Johnston of the University of Michigan. "When the price goes up, it is less likely that (kids)will proceed to greater use."

Parents, Not Just Media, Need to Send "No Smoking" Signals

What about the influence of parents? While the latest survey didn'task teens to describe parental influence, anti-smoking activists insist that what moms and dads say — or don't say — can have an enormous effect on teens. In other words, parents shouldn't just breathe asigh of relief over the new decline in smoking rates and think TV ad campaigns have more influence thanthey do.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey, taken every other year for the federal government, has foundsignificant racial and ethnic differences in the ways that parents deal with smoking. Researchers say that Hispanic parents, even if they smoke themselves, are less likely to allow teens to smoke in the house.The rules appear to have the effect of discouraging teen smoking altogether, not just smoking at home,because Hispanic teens smoke at lower rates than white teens do.

Haley A.'s mother also has established a no-smoking rule at home, but the teen says there has been little discussion of the issue.

"She knows that I know about the consequences," says Haley. Although the teen doesn't particularly wantto quit, she says she might be motivated to kick the habit if the penalties were severe enough."I think if I was grounded every time I got caught smoking or if my phone got taken away, then itwould definitely make it harder to keep smoking."

Dos and Don'ts for Parents: Keeping Teens Smoke-Free

These suggestions for parents come from Lyndon Haviland, executive vice president of the American Legacy Foundation(a public health foundation created as part of the 1998 settlement agreement by the states with thetobacco companies):

1. Do take nicotine addiction seriously. "When I talk to parents, I sometimes hear, 'It'sonly tobacco' or 'They're just experimenting,'" Haviland says. "It's critical to understand that teenagersdo become addicted, and it's critical to intervene. For one thing, research shows that cigarettes can bea gateway to use of other drugs and alcohol."
2. Don't assume teens know the dangers. While the latest teen smoking stats are promising,there are still warning signs hidden behind the headlines. The Monitoring the Future study showed that 43percent of eighth-graders still do not believe that there is a great risk associated with a-pack-a-day smoking.
3. Do talk about (immediate) health consequences and the cost. Teens tend to believe they'llnever get pregnant or die in a car crash, so it may be a waste of time to talk about "someday" dying of lungcancer as a result of smoking. Instead, Haviland and other experts advise parents to focus on short-termhealth and economic effects: "You get a lot of sore throats because you smoke." "If you want to runcross-country next semester, you'll have an easier time if you quit." "Your teeth are starting toget stained." Or focus on the money they're spending: "Gee, you could probably afford your own carif you weren't spending so much on cigarettes!"
4. Don't underestimate your own influence. "We've talked to teens who say, 'If my mom anddad really cared, they'd push me on it,'" Haviland reports.
5. Do talk to your child's healthcare provider, athletic coaches, and guidance counselors. The more caring adults who know your child smokes, the better, Haviland says. "You're surrounding your teenwith support for cessation behavior. There is nothing wrong with saying to a soccer coach, 'My daughter willbe playing on your team in the fall and I want you to know that she began smoking over the summer.'"
6. Don't turn cigarettes into a "forbidden fruit." No-smoking rules are fine, but only if they are premised on the dangers associated with cigarettes, notjust "Those are my rules and you must obey." Make sure you tell your teen how much you admire and respecthis or her decision not to smoke, or to quit.
7. Do look for help. The American Lung Association has a comprehensive program for teenscalled "NOT.," — "Not On Tobacco." Check their website for details at visit This site has a calculator to help teens (and adults!) calculatethe savings they reap when they kick the habit.