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Talking With Teens About Tobacco: How You Make a Difference

  • Maintain effective parenting practices. Teens are less likely to smoke if their parents use basic, effective parenting practices. These include having close relationships, maintaining open and honest communication, setting boundaries and consequences, modeling responsible behaviors, monitoring what your teen is doing, and keeping your home as a safe, welcoming place with low levels of tension and conflict.
  • Connect with others who matter. Other people influence whether your teen will start to use tobacco. They include their peers, teachers, role models, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and others. They can be important allies in communicating to your teen how important it is not to begin smoking or using other forms of tobacco.
  • Recognize peer influence. When a teen’s friends smoke or approve of smoking, it’s much more likely that he or she will smoke too. On the other hand, being with positive peers who don’t smoke can be key to teens not starting to smoke or use other forms of tobacco. If your teen’s friends use tobacco, talk to your teen about it and determine together what to do to avoid being negatively influenced.
  • Address your own tobacco use. Not only do teens whose parents smoke face the health risks of second-hand smoke, but also they are more likely to start smoking or using tobacco themselves. Quitting smoking is the best health option for you and your teen. If you cannot or will not quit, consider the following:
    • Be direct. Explain why you don’t want your teen to start smoking. If you’ve tried to quit, make sure your teen knows how difficult it is.
    • Don’t allow smoking by anyone inside your home, including yourself. Even a partial ban relays negative attitudes toward smoking.
    • Many teen smokers take cigarettes from their parents’ packs. Make sure to keep your cigarettes where your teen can’t easily get them.
  • Eat family meals together regularly. Researchers consistently find that teens who eat meals at least five times a week with their family are less likely to smoke or use other drugs. Why? Meals give a chance for families to talk together and for parents to learn more about what’s happening. Most important, though, the meal is part of having a warm, caring, and cohesive family.
  • Get them involved in positive activities. Teens who are involved in sports, volunteering, ethnic or cultural activities, youth and after-school programs, and religious activities are less likely to use tobacco. Part of this influence comes from being with positive adult and peer role models. Part of it comes from the values, social skills, and priorities that they develop through these opportunities.
  • Work to reduce acceptance of tobacco use in the community. The messages adolescents get from their community can either reinforce or undermine what they learn at home and at school. Of particular concern is if your neighborhood has a lot of unsupervised places and opportunities for teens. Teens are heavily influenced to use tobacco if they spend a lot of time in neighborhoods where other teens or adults use tobacco.

BeTobaccoFree.gov is a comprehensive "one-stop-shop" for tobacco information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Check out Talk with Your Teen.

Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on July 2, 2019