Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Talking tobacco with teens

Marissa Robinson
Marissa Robinson, Public Health student intern, AHS - In the not-so-distant past, tobacco use among teens was not uncommon - quite the opposite really. Now, in 2017, you may believe that teen tobacco-use is a thing of the past, especially considering that most Canadians have a much better understanding of the health consequences associated with tobacco use.

Statistics Canada reports that the smoking rate in Canada dropped to 18.1 per cent in 2014 and this number continues to plummet as more people quit smoking and fewer begin smoking. However, just because tobacco use is on the decline does not mean you do not need to talk to your kids about smoking and using tobacco. This is still a very important conversation you need to have with your kids to help ensure they lead tobacco-free futures. Here are some answers to questions you as a parent may be wondering about this tobacco prevention conversation:

Firstly, what is meant by ’tobacco use’ in today’s modern times?

Tobacco use no longer refers to just smoking a cigarette, puffing a pipe, or chewing tobacco. There are several different tobacco products available on the market today including cigars, cigarillos, “little” cigars, hookah and electronic cigarettes. Smoking is definitely not as attractive as it once was, but other forms of tobacco use are still fairly prevalent, especially among younger generations. Tobacco products geared towards youth are often flavored and scented using artificial chemicals that makes them look, taste and smell appealing.

How do you start a conversation about tobacco use with your kids?

Open the lines of communication with your child! If you approach the conversation without direct intent to talk about tobacco it will make the dialogue seem less intimidating. Start the conversation when you are both in calm, casual setting like before bedtime or during meal preparation.

What information about tobacco use should you share with your kids?

Scare tactics are only effective temporarily so don’t just share horror stories. Explain the very real health consequences associated with tobacco use including; cancer, heart disease and lung disease. Let them know how these diseases can affect their life, such as their ability to play sports and participate in other activates they enjoy. Inform them that using tobacco isn’t a bad habit but an addiction. Once you’re addicted, using is no longer a choice but a need. Youth often do not understand that using tobacco is a powerful addiction that is very difficult to quit.

How do you speak to the pre-conceived ideas your kids may already have about tobacco use?

When addressing the misconceptions that your child may have surrounding tobacco use, debunk the common myths that often drive people to start smoking. These common myths may include: tobacco use for stress management, as an appetite suppressant or the ’coolness’ factor. Reinforce the fact that there is nothing positive about having an expensive, extremely unhealthy addiction.

Can this ’tobacco talk’ be a one-time conversation?

Repetition is needed in order for a child to fully comprehend a concept. More than one conversation is needed and a continual dialogue is most effective. Ensure that your conversations are two-sided and that your child feels comfortable to interject and ask questions.

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Marissa Robinson is a Public Health student intern with AHS Population Health Promotion. She can be reached by e-mail:

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