No smoking sign

When Parents Are the Cause of Teen Smoking

Many adult smokers started smoking in their teens. And teenagers pick up on what their parents do, not what they say. It is not surprising, then, that teenagers who pick up smoking are often from families where at least one or more parent smokes [1].

Set a good example by quitting smoking and involving your teenager in your quit journey.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Talk to your teenager about your decision to stop smoking and seek his/her help to support you.
  • Share with them the difficulties you face as you attempt to quit smoking. Explain why you do not want them to follow in your footsteps.

Talk to your child openly and you can influence them with the values you believe in.

Why Do Teenagers Smoke?

Teenagers may experiment with smoking for many reasons:

  1. They want to fit in with friends.

    Their friends who are regular smokers may offer them cigarettes or dare them to smoke. Young people may give in to their friends’ vices and start smoking just to be accepted by the group. When someone they admire or think is cool smokes, impressionable teenagers start linking the person to the habit and wrongly assume that smoking is cool too.

  2. They are stressed.

    Teens have to cope with many changes — their bodies are growing in ways that are new to them; they are expected to be independent and to do well in school. They find it even more important to make new friends … the list goes on. To relieve stress, teenagers may pick up smoking, misled into thinking that smoking can offer some form of relief.

  3. They want to appear more adult.

    Many first-time smokers see smoking as part of growing up and think that it makes them look more mature, confident and ‘cool’. When they see their older friends smoke, they may have the misconception that smoking is what mature adults do.

  4. They are curious about cigarettes.

    Teenagers are curious about new things. They may have seen people smoking or vaping on television on the internet or in magazines and want to find out what a cigarette tastes like.

    Sometimes they may also be bored and smoke or vape just to have something to do. As their bodies get addicted to nicotine, smoking may turn into a lifelong habit.

Related: Smoking, Alcohol and Drugs - Why Teens Get Hooked on This Triple Threat

Practical Tips to Prevent Your Teenagers From Smoking

Here are some tips on raising smoke-free teenagers:

  1. Educate them on the harmful effects of smoking.

    • Talk to your teenager about the harmful effects of smoking like breathing problems, developing a poor complexion, wrinkling of the skin, staining of teeth, having bad breath, and how it affects physical fitness and stamina.
    • Talk to them about e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco as well. Some teenagers may have the wrong impression that these alternatives are not harmful at all.
    • If you know someone close to you who is suffering or has died from smoking-related diseases (e.g. lung cancer), talk to your teenager about this. Explain how sad it is to have someone close to you suffer or die from smoking-related diseases, when it could have been prevented had they listened to professional medical advice.
    • If you come across actors and actresses lighting up in the movies, take the opportunity to discuss how smoking is being falsely glamorised in the media.

  2. Communicate Openly and Spend More Time With Your Teenager.

    • Develop an open communication style and talk to your teenager more often. Building a good rapport with them encourages them to share their problems with you.
    • Let your teenager invite their friends to your home so you get to know them and spend time with your child and their friends.

  3. Be a Good Role Model.

    • If you don’t smoke, share your own experiences on why and how you chose not to become a smoker.
    • If you are still smoking, make the decision to quit smoking. If you are unable to do it alone, look out for smoking cessation programmes to help you quit.

Related: For a smoke-free life

If you suspect that your teenager has started experimenting with smoking:

Do not Judge

  • Find out why your teen has experimented and try not to ask questions that sound like you are interrogating him. Rephrase them into an observation or remark such as “Hey, I notice that you have started smoking” which sounds less accusing.
  • Listen to their views with an open mind and they will feel more willing to listen to your views. They’ll also feel more comfortable sharing their problems with you.

Be Patient

  • Pay attention when your teenager wants to share their thoughts with you. Try not to interrupt or rush to give your comments while they are talking. Offer suggestions instead of criticism. These are more effective in the long term.
  • It’s best not to be sarcastic with replies such as “You are too young to understand” or “I don’t care what your friends say”.
  • Refrain from nagging, shouting, threatening or using emotional blackmail. These may hurt your teenager’s feelings and make him want to smoke more, just to irritate you.
  • If you get frustrated and angry halfway through the discussion, tell your teenager to give you some time to calm down. Do not just walk away or ignore him. Remember that the discussion is about them, not you.

Be There for Them

  • Believe it when your teenager complains about peer pressure to try smoking. You may feel that it is easy to resist, but it is difficult for a teenager.
  • Suggest ways for your teenager to turn down cigarette offers without offending their friends. Look at their personality. If your child is shy, they can say “No thanks, I don’t like the taste” or make an excuse to leave. If your child is outgoing, they can laugh it off and say “No way! It’s not my style!”
  • Remind them that they can find and hang out with friends who are non-smokers. If they have to be around smokers, your teen can bring these non-smoking friends along for support.

Helping your child steer clear of smoking takes time, effort and understanding. By being there for them you will not only get closer, you’ll also better understand what your teen is going through.

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Visit Parent Hub, for more useful tips and guides to give your child a healthy start.


[1] Kandel, D. B., Griesler, P. C., & Hu, M. C. (2015). Intergenerational patterns of smoking and nicotine dependence among US adolescents. American Journal of Public Health105(11), e63-e72.

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