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Adolescents and Tobacco: Tips for Parents

When it comes to preventing teens from using tobacco or helping them quit, parents and other caring adults can take several steps.

Set an example. Choose not to smoke or use other tobacco products. In addition to modeling desirable behavior, this would prevent adolescents’ exposure to second-hand smoke, which can cause many of the same negative health effects that adolescents would experience if they smoked themselves.

Don’t be shy. You should speak up before adolescents begin smoking or if tobacco use of any kind is suspected. Youth who do not use tobacco before the age of 26 are likely to never start.1

Go the distance to prevent secondhand smoke exposure. In addition to not smoking yourself, you can prevent adolescents’ exposure to secondhand smoke by not allowing anyone to smoke anywhere in or near adolescents’ homes; not allowing smoking in the cars they ride in, even with a window down; ensuring that adolescents’ schools are tobacco-free; and—if your state still allows smoking in public areas—frequenting restaurants and other places that do not allow smoking (note that “no-smoking sections” are not enough to shield a person from secondhand smoke).

Monitor. The amount of monitoring you do (such as having expectations about when adolescents will be home and checking on their plans) can lessen your teen risks of nicotine-dependence.2

Strongly disapprove. Adolescents whose parents or other adults in their lives strongly disapprove of their smoking—even if the adults themselves smoke - are less likely to take up smoking. Your disapproval has even been found to counteract the influence of peers on smoking.3

Know what children watch. Setting limits on adolescents’ movie choices may help prevent them from starting to smoke; many adult-oriented movies include depictions of smoking that may glamorize the habit.4

Enlist allies. Other adults in adolescents’ lives, such as teachers, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, influence whether teens start using tobacco and whether they stop. These adults can be important allies in communicating a no-smoking message to teens.

For more tips on how you can have meaningful conversations with your teen about tobacco use and its dangers, visit Talking with Teens, OAH's resource for parents and other adults working with adolescents.


1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Preventing tobacco use among youth and young adults: A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. Retrieved from http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/preventing-youth-tobacco-use/full-report.pdf.
2 Chen, L. S., Johnson, E. O., Breslau, N., Hatsukami, D., Saccone, N. L., Grucza, R. A.,…Bierut, L. J. (2009). Interplay of genetic risk factors and parent monitoring in risk for nicotine dependence. Addiction, 104(10), 1731-1740.
3 Polansky, J. R., Titus, K., Atayeva, R., & Glantz, S. A. (2015). Smoking in top-grossing U.S. movies: 2014. San Francisco, CA: University of California–San Francisco, Center for Tobacco Control Research & Education. Retrieved from http://escholarship.org/uc/item/5d5348rs.
4 Farrelly, M. C., Kamyab, K., Nonnemaker, J., Crankshaw, E., & Allen, J. A. (2012). Movie smoking and youth initiation: Parsing smoking imagery and other adult content. PLoS ONE, 7(12), e51935. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0051935.
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on April 8, 2019