Frequent Questions and Concerns about Tobacco Use

When do kids start using tobacco?

Children can become smokers at almost any age. Almost 11 percent of surveyed teenagers said they had smoked at least one cigarette before they were 13 years old.1 It’s never too early to start preparing your child to say no to tobacco; the younger kids are when they start smoking, the more likely they are to develop a long-term addiction.2

Why do kids start using tobacco?

There are various reasons for preteen and teen smoking. A 2000 survey asked over 600 middle and high school students why they smoked; the most common answer was “It helps me to relieve my stress.” Youths experiment with or begin smoking for a variety of reasons, including societal and parental norms, tobacco product advertising, depictions of smoking in movies and other popular media, and peer influences.6 In addition, adolescence can be a time of rebellion, and extraordinary peer pressure, all which can encourage your teen or pre-teen to smoke. Parents can help their children by addressing issues such as these before they lead to tobacco use.
Read more about peer pressure and tobacco use.

What are the different types of tobacco?

  • Bidis: small, hand-rolled cigarettes that may have colorful string tied at one or both ends. They come in cherry, mango,chocolate, and unflavored. 7
  • Kreteks: clove cigarettes imported from Indonesia. 7
  • Hookahs: water pipes to smoke tobacco in flavors from watermelon to licorice. 7
  • Electronic cigarettes: these tar-free cigarettes (also known as “Ecigs” or “e-cigarettes”) still contain nicotine and have not been evaluated by the FDA.
  • Cigars and cigarillos: according to a recent study, 13.6% of high school students smoked cigars in the past 30 days. 7
  • Chewing tobacco (loose leaf, plug, twist): some young people may appear to be chewing gum when they’re actually chewing smokeless tobacco. Almost one out of five white high-school-age males currently use smokeless tobacco. 8
  • Snuff or “Dip”: moist ground tobacco that is placed between the lip and gums, usually leading to spitting.
  • Snus: small pouches of dry tobacco that are placed between the gum and lip but are usually not spitted.

Are smokeless tobacco products just as harmful as smoking?

The two main types of smokeless tobacco in the United States are chewing tobacco and snuff.1,2 Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes. 2 Smokeless tobacco use can cause cancer, oral health problems, and nicotine addiction. 2

What can I tell my child to deter her from using tobacco?

Try some of the following discussion points:

  • Let your child know that using tobacco is not common; many children who smoke greatly overestimate the number of teenagers who smoke. Talk about how the large majority of teens don’t smoke.
  • Point out how using tobacco will limit how well your child will do in sports and other activities, and that it affects her stamina and breathing.
  • Emphasize how much money it costs to use tobacco, and that she will have less money to spend on things that she wants. Calculate how much cigarettes cost (365 x packs per day x price per pack) and talk about what else she could do with that money.
  • Remind your child that using tobacco products is not a sign of maturity, and that many adults regret using. Talk about how real maturity means standing up to social pressure.

See The Effects of Smoking for more short- and long-term effects of tobacco use

If I take away my child’s allowance, he won’t be able to buy tobacco products like cigarettes or snuff, right?

Many parents believe that if their children don’t have the money to buy tobacco products, they won’t start (or continue) to use them. However, taking away an allowance is not usually a very effective method of tobacco use prevention. Some teens illegally buy cigarettes or other tobacco products themselves, but most give money to someone else to buy them or simply borrow or are given them. In fact, in 2009, only 14 percent of surveyed underage smokers bought their cigarettes from a store.4

Should I punish my child if I catch her using tobacco products?

Boundaries and rules are only effective if they’re reinforced with discipline. However, it’s important to not let your punishments backfire. If you’re too harsh, your child may simply be angry at you and not learn the lesson you’re trying to teach. Explain why you set the rules you did, and why it’s important that your child not use tobacco. Your goal is not to punish your child, but to keep her from smoking or using other tobacco products.

Isn’t this just a phase my child will grow out of?

That’s not a risk you can afford to take. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 57 percent of adult smokers started before they turned 18.5 And because there are very serious short- and long-term effects of tobacco use, it’s important that you take tobacco prevention seriously and equip your children with the knowledge and tools they need to stay tobacco-free.

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1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results (2010).

2. American Cancer Society, Child and and Teen Tobacco Use: Understanding the Problem (Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2009).

3. Elisabeth Simantov, Cathy Schoen and Jonathan Klein, “Health-Compromising Behaviors: Why Do Adolescents Smoke or Drink?: Identifying Underlying Risk and Protective Factors,” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 154, no. 10 (2000): 1025-1033.

4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results (2010).

5. Charlotte Schoenborn and Patricia Adams, “Health Behaviors of Adults: United States 2005-2007,” Vital Health Statistics 10, no. 245 (National Center for Health Statistics, 2010).

6. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 58 , no. 16 (2009): 428-431.

7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “_Tobacco Use, Access, and Exposure to Tobacco in Media Among Middle and High School Students_—United States, 2004,” MMWR 54, no. 12 (2005):297-301.