For your kids' sake

Photo of a bunch of carrots

Be a positive role model

Whether you are a parent or not, the children in your life look up to you. Be a role model by not smoking or using other tobacco products. If you do smoke, you owe it to kids to be honest with them about how hard it is to quit, and to encourage them not to start.

Health risks

Photo of two teenage boys playing basketballNearly a quarter of high school students in the U.S. smoke cigarettes. Another 8 percent use smokeless tobacco products that can lead to a lifelong addiction to nicotine.

The U.S. Surgeon General has reported several health risks for young people who smoke, including:

  • asthma
  • colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other respiratory illnesses
  • problems with lung development and other issues that can continue into adulthood

Despite overall declines in U.S. smoking rates, every day almost 4,000 people under 18 try their very first cigarette. People who start smoking before they turn 21 have the hardest time quitting. And of those who start, 30 percent will continue to smoke and die early of a smoking-related disease.

Secondhand smoke is a danger

Don’t smoke around your kids, or let others smoke around them. There are serious health risks for children exposed to secondhand smoke, such as:

  • respiratory illnesses including asthma
  • ear infections
  • cough, phlegm, wheezing, and breathlessness among children of school age

What do I tell my child?

Try these tips when you want to talk about tobacco.

  • Smoking makes hair and clothes stink, stains teeth, and gives you bad breath.
  • Play sports? Get ready to ride the bench. Smokers get short of breath almost 3 times more often than nonsmokers.
  • Don’t waste hard-earned money — cigarettes are expensive.
  • Rise above peer pressure. You don’t have to smoke because your friends smoke, or because it looks glamorous in movies or when celebrities do it.

Learn more ways to help your child avoid tobacco, drugs, and alcohol.

Smokeless products

Some kids try chewing tobacco, "vaping" (e-cigarettes) or they dip snuff rather than smoke cigarettes, but those are no safer.

Oral tobacco products carry a risk of mouth cancer; they also can cause tooth decay and gum disease, and create patches or sores in the mouth.

You should warn children about the risks of "dissolvable" tobacco products that have surfaced recently. The mild taste and candy-like packaging of some of these products could make them attractive to young people.

  • Sticks or strips. These melt in the mouth for faster nicotine absorption and don’t require spitting. The market for these is just starting in the Unites States and their introduction has raised concerns that children could ingest nicotine at toxic levels.
  • Snus. These are small, teabag-like portions of moist tobacco that go under the lip. Snus products have been banned in most of Europe but are now being introduced in some areas of the United States. 

More and more kids are using e-cigarettes, also called “vaping.” E-cigarettes come in sweet flavors which can be appealing to kids but the liquid nicotine or other chemicals in them can be harmful. The health effects of vaping are not yet known but it can lead to nicotine addiction and cigarette use.

Sources: U.S. Surgeon GeneralKaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites.; Centers for Disease Control and PreventionKaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites.

Reviewed by: EW Emanuel, MD, February 2016

Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

© 2016 Kaiser Permanente