Young People and Smoking: What Can Parents Do?
Apr 2, 2012 - 10:31:20 AM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - According to a recent report from the Surgeon General, over 3800 young Americans under 18 start smoking each day. Despite widely known health risks, nearly one in four high school seniors and one in three young Americans under the age of 26 smoke. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin believes that tobacco use has become a "pediatric epidemic."
What can parents do to help their children understand the dangers of tobacco use? When should you begin to talk to your kids about tobacco and how should parents respond to persistent images of smoking in films, television and music videos?
According to Dr. Thomas Peterson, a pediatrician and Executive Director of Safety, Quality, and Community Health at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, young Americans have clearly been targeted by tobacco companies marketing efforts. But youth smoking can be prevented with the combined efforts of families, schools, communities and policy makers.
For instance, Dr. Peterson believes it’s never too young to talk to your children about the dangers.
“Even young children can understand why some things are simply not good for you,” he explains. “If you start talking about smoking early on, you can give them solid information that will help them make good choices in the future.”
Because young people can be influenced by images of smoking in the media, parents should not only monitor what their children watch but talk about what they may see.
“Be honest about these images and why some people may think that smoking is “cool,” Dr. Peterson said. “Help your child understand that these images ignore the tragedy of tobacco addiction and serious health problems that could have been avoided.”
Dr. Peterson also believes that parents can also set a positive example for their children by not smoking themselves, and keeping their homes smoke-free.
“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of parents and peers,” he explains. “Two-thirds of young people who smoke have a parent who also smokes. The number one risk for kids starting smoking is influence from friends.”
Finally, parents can encourage schools to provide a smoke-free environment and provide tobacco prevention programs to educate students about the dangers of smoking.
Dr. Peterson believes that parents and families need the support of their community to stop young people from smoking. To help achieve that goal, he has launched many tobacco awareness programs including "Tobacco Free Partners," a coalition of more than 45 organizations that work together to provide tobacco cessation classes, education and advocacy in his local community.
Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is part of Spectrum Health, the award-winning health system in West Michigan.
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