August 30, 2016

Teen smoking typically becomes a lifelong habit. Here’s how to encourage a kid to stop.


Most smokers first pick up the habit as teenagers. According to Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the most common time for people to first try cigarettes are ages 11 to 13. Nearly 15 percent of kids report that they had tried smoking by the end of eighth grade.

If your teen is smoking, you’ll probably smell cigarettes on them, their clothes and possessions, and not just when they’ve been around friends who smoke.

If your child is vaping – using electronic cigarettes rather than tobacco ones – you probably won’t be able to smell the e-cigs on your teen’s breath unless they’re using flavored vapes. So be aware that a lack of tobacco-smoke smell doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not using nicotine products. (As of Aug. 8, 2016, it became illegal to sell e-cigarettes, cigars and hookah tobacco to people under the age of 18, but just as teenagers have often been able to get their hands on traditional cigarettes, they’ll likely find ways to keep buying e-cigs, or “vapes,” too.)

Teen smoking may not start out as a heavy habit, but kids are likely to increase their smoking habit over time, because the nicotine in the cigarettes is addicting.

You can’t make anyone quit smoking; your teen has to decide on his own to take this step. But there are ways to nudge your child toward this decision. Try these tactics to encourage your teen to quit cigarettes:

Don’t smoke

Kids learn from their parents’ examples, and they’re far less likely to smoke growing up in a smoke-free home. But if you smoke, and now your teen does, too — it’s time to quit your own habit. You’ll have zero credibility telling your kid to quit if you’re still puffing away.

Collect a gang of role models

Teens notoriously tune out words of wisdom from their parents. If urging your child to quit smoking is having no effect – or possibly the opposite effect – maybe she’ll listen to a grandparent or another respected relative (or neighbor, teacher, coach, pastor, etc.) who stopped smoking, and who can talk with credibility about hazards of teen smoking and the benefits of quitting.

Also, have your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor talk to your teen about smoking and suggest ways to quit.

Tennessee parents, call the TNQuitline

Free smoking-cessation service, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, will work with teens, with parental consent, offering counseling to help them quit cigarettes or any other type of tobacco or nicotine use (such as chewing tobacco or e-cigarettes). It’s best if parent and teen make the first call to the Quitline together, because the counselor will need parental consent for teens younger than 18, and will also need the parent’s health insurance information. The counselor will also have questions for the teen about the cigarette habit. Also, although the Quitline provides some free nicotine replacement products to its adult clients, it cannot provide them to people under 18 without medical clearance from the teen’s pediatrician.

After that first call to the Quitline, program the Quitline number into the “favorites” list on your kid’s cellphone.

Studies show that getting advice from resources such as Quitline do help teens quit, said Hilary Tindle, M.D., an associate professor in medicine, physician, and founding director of the Vanderbilt Center for Tobacco, Addictions and Lifestyle.

If your teen resists calling the Quitline, trying to coerce him or her into keeping appointments with a counselor probably won’t go well. But the service does offer a free downloadable “QuitKit” parents can download and print to share with their child.

Arm your teen with tech tools

There’s not enough evidence that nicotine replacement and medications designed to help people quit smoking are suitable for teens. Prescriptions are not typically given for people under the age of 18 — but ask your pediatrician about your child’s circumstances anyway. Without nicotine replacement tools (the patch, nicotine gum and others), your teen will need different support tools. Take advantage of teens’ love of technology. Recommend these tech tools, which are designed to help people quit smoking:

  • The iPhone app, quitSTART, provides messages and information, building teens’ confidence that they can quit.
  • SmokefreeTXT is a free texting service designed to provide motivation and encouragement 24/7.
  • Smokefreeteen is a website with interactive tools to help teens sort out their values and reasons behind their decisions. It specifically promises not to tell teens what to do but rather “to help you understand the decisions you make — especially the decision to quit smoking — and how those decisions fit into your life.”