Talking Kids Out of Smoking

Kids need to get the anti-smoking message early

child breaking cigarette in half

They say talk is cheap, but it apparently can also be very effective when you’re trying to keep a child from starting a bad habit.

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A new study from the U.S. Preventive Task Force finds that health care professionals who simply talk to kids and teens about the negative health effects of smoking can make a difference.

Each day in U.S., nearly 4,000 kids smoke first cigarette

Researchers with the Task Force say that, in the United States each day, an estimated 3,800 children smoke their first cigarette between the ages of 12 and 17.

In 2009 the American Academy of Pediatrics started recommending that all pediatricians talk to kids as young as 5 years of age against starting tobacco use, and provide counseling on quitting smoking.

The Task Force took a hard look at the effectiveness of that approach and backs the recommendation.

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The Task Force says that although the most serious and life-threatening effects from smoking show up in adults, it’s important for children to understand they can suffer from impaired lung growth and other respiratory problems, too.

A little talk goes a long way

Cleveland Clinic family medicine physician Robert Bales, MD, did not take part in the study, but says a little talk goes a long way.

 “One of the easiest things we can do is just to flat out tell kids not to start smoking, it’s not a good thing, it’s one of the unhealthiest things you can do,” says Dr. Bales.

The Task Force recommends getting the message out to kids through:

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  • Conversations with a health care professional in the office or by phone, individually or in a family or group session
  • Educational videos
  • Computer apps
  • Print materials (activity guides, newsletters, tip sheets, workbooks)

Ask family doctor to help spread the word

Dr. Bales says it’s encouraging to hear how big of an impact pediatricians and physicians can have, but added the entire process really begins at home with parents.

“Encourage your kids’ primary care physician, pediatrician or family doctor to talk to them about not smoking. And what you can do is make your house and car smoke-free.”

Tobacco is the main cause of preventable illness and death, primarily lung cancer and heart disease, in the United States.