Chat early and often about
the effects of smoking
One of parents’ most important jobs
is keeping their kids safe—steering
them away from staircases as toddlers,
teaching them to cross the street when
they go to school and, as they grow,
protecting them from tobacco use.
“Kids are naturally into risk-taking and
experimentation. They want to try new
things,” says Gail Foreman, a tobacco
reduction specialist at the Johnstone
Crossing Community Health Centre
in Red Deer. “The challenge for them
is seeing what it’s like to live with the
lifelong consequences of their actions.”
Kids don’t know that tobacco is
addictive and expensive or how it can
affect their health, their looks and even
Tobacco reduction experts say it’s
important for parents to talk to their
children early and often about the
side effects of tobacco use.
Recent statistics indicate that when
young people make it to 19 without
smoking they’re unlikely to begin.
However, every age brings a fresh
perspective on smoking and presents
new challenges in speaking to youth
Preschool (under 6)
“Start talking to your kids as soon as
they begin to be curious,” Foreman
Talk to preschoolers about smoking
using words they can relate to such
as “smelly,” “stinky” or “yucky,” and
how smoking can make people sick.
You can emphasize these messages
through activities such as storytelling
and colouring. Young people are very
impressionable and they take their cues
from adults and other role models.
Society has made inroads over the
past decades, using legislation to restrict
where cigarettes can be advertised and
where people are allowed to smoke.
“When stores were banned from
displaying cigarette packages along with
candy it was an important preventive
step,” Canning says. Taking it further,
new regulations in Red Deer ban smoking
in most public spaces; the Town of
Okotoks has banned smoking in vehicles
Parents also have a role to play
and can help “denormalize” smoking.
“Focus on the 80 percent of Albertans
who don’t smoke,” Canning suggests.
She adds that smoking parents can make
their homes and vehicles smoke free.
For tips on how to talk to your kids
about tobacco if you’re a smoker, see
this story on applemag.ca.
Older teens ( 15–19)
The strategy for talking to your kids
when they’re in junior and senior high
school is knowing what is important to
them, says Foreman. “Then speak to
them about tobacco use and its risks
in that context.”
You can point out that smoking may
make it harder to make the football
team or find a date and that it affects
how you feel, look and even smell.
Canning and Foreman say some teens
respond to social and environmental
arguments against tobacco use.
Foreman adds that letting teens know
that the tobacco industry is manipulating
them can also be an effective deterrent.
For more information, see this story
— Anne Georg
Elementary school ( 6–11)
indicate that when
young people make it
to 19 without smoking
When children enter elementary school
and join mainstream culture it’s time to
“Parents need to be aware that
‘Big Tobacco’ (tobacco manufacturers)
targets children with their products,”
says Susan Canning, manager of the
Tobacco Reduction Program at Alberta
Health Services. One example is by
disguising cigarettes with flavours such
as bubble gum and peanut butter.
Parents can add to what children
learn in elementary school, Canning says.
“This is when they learn how dangerous
smoking is and they will go home with
questions.” It’s the ideal time to talk
about the damaging effects tobacco
has on the ability to take part in the
sports and activities that children love.
Pre- and early teens ( 12–14)
As children enter junior high school, the
message is that tobacco use is not normal.