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Talking With Teens About Tobacco: Talk With Your Teen

  • Critique what teens hear about tobacco. Friends, movies, music, celebrities, or advertising may give teens the impression that tobacco use is sexy, helps lose weight, or can help them fit in. These are myths. Using tobacco is not a sign of maturity, and most adults who started using tobacco as teens later regret it.
  • Highlight the risks.Young people who see smoking or tobacco use as less harmful (or focus on what they see as positive sides to it, such as peer acceptance) are more likely to start using tobacco. Here are some of the short- and long-term risks of smoking (with similar risks for other forms of tobacco use):

Short-Term Effects of Smoking

  • Addiction to nicotine and exposure to other dangerous chemicals
  • Higher likelihood of respiratory problems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Phlegm and a gross-sounding cough
  • Impaired lung growth and function
  • Bad breath, yellow teeth, and stained fingers

Long-Term Effects of Smoking

  • Addiction to nicotine and exposure to other dangerous chemicals
  • Lung, mouth, throat, kidney, and stomach cancers
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Emphysema and other chronic diseases
  • Shorter lifespan (up to 20 years shorter)
  • Foul-smelling clothes and hair
  • Provide accurate information about different forms of tobacco.Cigarettes are the most common form of tobacco use, including tobacco use among teens. But there are other forms of tobacco that teens may try or use. Sometimes they do so, thinking that the health risks or chance of addiction are lower. And though the levels of specific risks vary by type of product, all of these tobacco products contain nicotine and other chemicals, so they are not “safe” alternatives to smoking cigarettes. Other tobacco products include:
    • Smokeless tobacco, including chewing tobacco, snuff, and snus—Most smokeless tobacco users place the product in their cheek or between their gum and cheek, then spit. Snus are small pouches of dry tobacco that are placed between the gum and lip but usually are not spit.
    • Bidis ("bee-dees") and kreteks—Bidis are small, hand-rolled cigarettes typically imported from India and Southeast Asia. They may be flavored (such as chocolate, mango, or strawberry). Kreteks, from Indonesia, are also called clove cigarettes because they include cloves along with tobacco and other additives. These products contain more nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide than conventional U.S. cigarettes.
    • Cigars, cigarillos, little cigars, and blunts—Most cigars include tobacco that is air-cured or dried, then fermented to give it a different taste and smell. Regular cigars are larger than cigarettes. Little cigars or cigarillos look like cigarettes, but are filled with pipe tobacco. They may be flavored (chocolate or apple, for example) and are sold individually or in packets like cigarettes. Blunts are wide, somewhat stubby versions of cigars. All of these products contain higher levels of nicotine than cigarettes.
    • Pipes—Pipes use loose, fermented tobacco that sits in a chamber or bowl and is inhaled through a mouthpiece.
    • Hookah or water pipe—This pipe, originally from India and the Middle East, is used to smoke a combination of tobacco and fruits or vegetables (called Shisha) that is heated and filtered through water.
    • Electronic cigarettes or E-cigarettes—E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that turn nicotine and other chemicals into a vapor that the user inhales. E-cigarettes often look like regular cigarettes, but they do not produce smoke or burn tobacco. They do, however, contain nicotine and other chemicals.
    • Dissolvable tobacco—Dissolvable tobacco is finely processed to use on strips, sticks, orbs, or tobacco lozenges. They can look like a breath mint or candy. They contain nicotine and other chemicals.
  • Find teachable moments. If it’s hard to talk about tobacco with your teen, try these ideas to make it easier:
    • If your teen is going to be where tobacco might be used, talk about how to deal with the situation.
    • Comment on an advertisement or TV show that shows someone smoking.
    • If you see someone using tobacco—such as a relative at a family gathering or one of your own friends—ask your teen what he thinks about it.
    • Discuss rules about tobacco use at the school or on sports teams.

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