Chat early and often about
the effects of smoking
One of parents’ most important jobsis keeping their kids safe—steeringthem away from staircases as toddlers,teaching them to cross the street whenthey 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’simportant for parents to talk to theirchildren early and often about theside effects of tobacco use.
Recent statistics indicate that whenyoung people make it to 19 withoutsmoking they’re unlikely to begin.
However, every age brings a freshperspective on smoking and presentsnew challenges in speaking to youthabout smoking.
Preschool (under 6)
“Start talking to your kids as soon asthey begin to be curious,” Foremanrecommends.
Talk to preschoolers about smokingusing words they can relate to suchas “smelly,” “stinky” or “yucky,” andhow smoking can make people sick.
You can emphasize these messagesthrough activities such as storytellingand colouring. Young people are veryimpressionable and they take their cuesfrom adults and other role models.
Society has made inroads over thepast decades, using legislation to restrictwhere cigarettes can be advertised andwhere people are allowed to smoke.
“When stores were banned fromdisplaying cigarette packages along withcandy it was an important preventivestep,” Canning says. Taking it further,new regulations in Red Deer ban smokingin most public spaces; the Town ofOkotoks has banned smoking in vehiclescarrying children.
Parents also have a role to playand can help “denormalize” smoking.
“Focus on the 80 percent of Albertanswho don’t smoke,” Canning suggests.
She adds that smoking parents can maketheir homes and vehicles smoke free.
For tips on how to talk to your kidsabout tobacco if you’re a smoker, seethis 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 teensrespond to social and environmentalarguments against tobacco use.
Foreman adds that letting teens knowthat the tobacco industry is manipulatingthem 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 schooland join mainstream culture it’s time toswitch tactics.
“Parents need to be aware that‘Big Tobacco’ (tobacco manufacturers)targets children with their products,”says Susan Canning, manager of theTobacco Reduction Program at AlbertaHealth Services. One example is bydisguising cigarettes with flavours suchas bubble gum and peanut butter.
Parents can add to what childrenlearn in elementary school, Canning says.
“This is when they learn how dangeroussmoking is and they will go home withquestions.” It’s the ideal time to talkabout the damaging effects tobaccohas on the ability to take part in thesports and activities that children love.
Pre- and early teens ( 12–14)
As children enter junior high school, themessage is that tobacco use is not normal.