Eighty per cent of adult smokers commenced smoking before the age of 18 years. Smoking is an addiction that causes or contributes to a wide range of diseases including cancers, heart disease and emphysema. The best protection against smokingrelated illnesses is never to smoke in the first place.

However children entering their teenage years are experimental,
curious and vulnerable to peer pressure. Whether
your child becomes a smoker or not is ultimately their
decision.
It is not always possible for parents to prevent their child
from trying cigarettes, but the use of various strategies
can reduce the likelihood of a child wanting to smoke or
becoming a regular smoker.

CHILDREN AND SMOKING
Selected Australian statistics include:
• By the time the average child reaches three years of
age, they are familiar with cigarettes and used to seeing
people smoke.
• A child is more likely to smoke if they perceive
themselves to be a poor student.
• Around one-quarter of school students have tried
smoking by age 12.
• About 6% of 12 year olds are current smokers (defined
as smoked in the week before the survey).
• By the time they are 17 years old, around 65% of school
students have tried smoking and 25% are current
smokers.
• The mean age for taking up smoking is 16 years old.
• Around 205,000 boys and girls at school aged 12 to 17
years are current smokers. If they were all to continue
to smoke, it is estimated that around 103,000 would die
prematurely from smoking.

WHY CHILDREN SMOKE
Some of the reasons why your child may try smoking
cigarettes include:
• Peer bonding and the desire to fit in with friends.
• To copy parents or older brothers or sisters who smoke.
• The wish to assert their growing independence.
• The desire to appear more grown up and sophisticated.
• Curiosity.
• To imitate actors or models with appealing images in
movies or magazines.

BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL
If you don’t want your child to smoke, it is important to set
a good example by being a non-smoker yourself.
Research shows that children are less likely to smoke if
their primary role models are non-smokers. If you have
found quitting difficult and are still a smoker, share your
experiences with your child. For example, tell them how
demoralising it feels to be hooked on smoking when
you don’t want to be, or how much money you wish you
hadn’t wasted on cigarettes over the years. Let them see
they can learn a valuable lesson from your mistake.
Ask your children for their support during your next quit
attempt. If your child can witness how tough quitting
cigarettes can be, they may want to steer clear of
smoking completely.

TAKE A STAND AGAINST SMOKING
Other suggestions to reinforce the non-smoking message
include:
• Don’t permit anyone to smoke in your home.
• Don’t send your child to buy cigarettes for you or anyone
else.
• Encourage sport and physical activity for all family
members.
• Discuss the issue of smoking with your child when
seeing other people smoke.
• Don’t let your child light a cigarette for you or anyone
else.
• If there are adult smokers in the house, make sure they
keep their cigarettes where your child cannot access
them.

EDUCATE YOUR CHILD
Symptoms of many smoking-related illnesses tend to
develop in middle or later life. Trying to explain the long
term risks of smoking to a child or teenager may not have
much of an impact, since 20 or 30 years or more into the
future is an unimaginable eternity to them. Mention these
long term risks, but try to emphasise the immediate risks
to their health and wellbeing.

Suggestions of immediate risks include:
• Reduced fitness levels.
• Nasty smelling breath.
• Stained teeth and fingers.
• Unattractive to non-smoking peers.
• Wasting money that could be used for clothes, CDs or
other items.
• The difficulty of stopping smoking once symptoms of
addiction to nicotine appear. Many young people
develop symptoms even if they don’t smoke every day,
and for some, symptoms can develop within days to
weeks of starting to smoke.

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD IS ALREADY SMOKING
If your child is already smoking, or if you suspect they
may be, try to avoid angry confrontations. Threats and
bullying rarely work. Instead, attempt a reasonable ‘adultto-
adult’ conversational tone. Find out what they find
appealing about cigarettes. For example, peer pressure is
important. Don’t try to force your child to stop seeing their
friends who smoke.
You could try expressing your disapproval about smoking,
while allowing your child to indulge other conformist behaviours
such as buying the same style of clothes as their
friends. Alternatively, help your child to question the value
of always following the crowd. Use this as an opportunity
to encourage your child to think and act independently.

WHERE TO GET HELP
• Your doctor
• Quitline Tel. 137 848

THINGS TO REMEMBER
• Research shows that children are less likely to smoke
if their primary role models – their parents – are nonsmokers.
• If you have found quitting difficult and are still a smoker,
share your experiences with your child and help them
learn from your mistake.
• Emphasise the immediate risks of smoking to your
child’s health and wellbeing, such as bad breath and
less money in their pocket.

Article provided by the Better Health Channel. Visit
www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au for further inform