For Parents Who Use Tobacco

It can be especially difficult to talk to your kids about tobacco use if you smoke or use other forms of tobacco—you may feel like you’re being hypocritical or that your words won’t be effective at all. But don’t let that stop you. Although it’s tough, it’s still important that you talk to your kids about tobacco use. You also need to be especially watchful for warning signs of your child smoking, as children of smokers are much more likely to become smokers themselves.1 However, parental disapproval of smoking is a consistent protective factor against kids’ future smoking.2 Quitting smoking yourself is on the best things that you can do to help your child quit, but if you’re not ready for that, here are a few other tips:

  • Speaking candidly is often the best way to go about this conversation. For example, “I smoke, but then I tell you not to. Does that seem hypocritical?” Be direct, and explain why you don’t want your child to start smoking. Don’t be afraid to admit it if you wish you hadn’t started smoking; your child will respect your honesty.
  • Often, young children who complained about their parents’ smoking grow into teens who are silent on the matter. Just because your child doesn’t talk about smoking does mean that he won’t try it. Be sure to keep talking about tobacco use: “I notice that you haven’t complained about my smoking lately. Why is that?”
  • Share your story with your child. Talk about why you started smoking—did your friends smoke? Did your parents? Talk about your addiction to tobacco and the effect that it has had on your health. If you’ve tried to quit, make sure your child knows how difficult it is.
  • Don’t allow smoking by anyone inside your home, including yourself. Even a partial ban on smoking at home relays negative attitudes toward smoking and may decrease the chances that your child will start smoking. 5
  • Spell out the reasons why your child shouldn’t smoke, and keep in mind that teens are more likely to respond to the short-term effects, such as the cost.
  • See The Effects of Smoking for more short- and long-term effects.
  • Realize that you may be less attuned to the smell of smoke in your house—keep your eyes open for other warning signs, such as burn holes in your child’s clothes, making excuses to go outside often, or finding lighters or matches in your child’s belongings. If your child avoids questions about these things, she may be trying to cover up her smoking.
  • Many teen smokers take cigarettes from their parents’ packs—make sure to keep your cigarettes where your children can’t easily get them.
  • If you’re considering quitting, remember that adolescent smokers are almost twice as likely to quit if their parents quit—if your child smokes as well, make an effort to quit together.4 Tell your child why you’re quitting and encourage him to do the same.

Talking to your kids about tobacco use is hard. And it can be even harder if you smoke. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have positive, insightful conversations about tobacco use with your child.

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1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Changing Adolescent Smoking Prevalence,” Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 14, (2001): 85-89.

2. Phyllis Ellickson and others, “Reducing Early Smokers’ Risk for Future Smoking and Other Problem Behavior: Insights from a Five-Year Longitudinal Study,” Journal of Adolescent Health 43, no. 4 (2008): 394-400.

3. Arthur Farkas and others, “Association between Household and Workplace Smoking Restrictions and Adolescent Smoking,” JAMA 285, no. 6 (2000): 717-722.

4. Jonathan Bricker and others, “Parents Who Quit Smoking and Their Adult Children’s Smoking Cessation: A 20-Year Follow-Up Study,” Addiction 104, no. 6 (2009): 1036-1042.

5. Jessica Legge Muilenburg, Teaniese Latham, Lucy Annang, William D. Johnson, Alexandra C. Burdell, Sabra J. West, and Dixie L. Clayton. The Home Smoking Environment: Influence on Behaviors and Attitudes in a Racially Diverse Adolescent Population. Health Education and Behavior 36 (2009): 777-793.