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Smoking Among Teenagers

The adolescent years are often the most difficult to parent. This is the period when your loving child turns into an unpredictable monster, and when experimentation with risky behaviours such as smoking increases dramatically.

Children start to smoke for different reasons. Adolescence is characterised by worries about fitting in and being accepted by peers. Children with low self-esteem and who lack assertiveness are more likely to succumb to peer pressure to smoke. They may also turn to cigarettes to cope with stress, frustration, sadness or boredom. Some youth may have the misconception that smoking helps them to lose weight or boost their energy levels. For others, smoking evolves into an autopilot, habitual pattern of behaviour because cigarettes are easily available and are what they see in their homes.

Talking to Children about Smoking 

Smokers often start young. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 90% of smokers begin smoking before age 20. Of these, 50% begin tobacco use by age 14 and 25% begin their use by age 12[1].

Among tobacco users, nearly half will die from it. About six million people die each year from tobacco, of which more than 600,000 are non-smokers dying from breathing in second-hand smoke [2]. Besides causing death, smoking can result in addiction and a wide range of health problems, including respiratory illnesses, decreased physical fitness, lung cancer and heart disease—which can lead to premature disability and death.

As a parent, you may feel powerless about affecting your teenager’s behaviour, but you actually have more influence than you think. Read on to learn how you can stay better connected with your child and prevent him or her from engaging in risky behaviours, such as tobacco use.

Related: Smoking - Addiction or Habit?

Anti-Smoking Role-Models


Parents have tremendous influence on children, as children often grow up to emulate the behaviour, beliefs, and attitudes of their parents. Parents are important role models and parental smoking has a direct impact on teenagers. According to a study on Dutch students[3], parenting approach and parents’ smoking status have a direct impact on teenagers. A Student Health Survey 2006 conducted by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) showed that a significantly higher percentage of youth smokers (59%) had at least one parent who smoked, as compared to the non-smokers (34%).


This parental influence extends to parenting styles, as the approach adopted can impact whether a child smokes or not. Parents who are involved, loving and responsive to their children are likely to decrease the risk of teens experimenting with smoking.

Related: Learn More About Smoking, Tobacco Use and Health

Anti-Smoking Tips

Anti Smoking Tips for Children

High levels of communication about smoking can result in lower rates of smoking among teens[4]. Take the initiative to start conversations with your child about smoking, display empathy and give your child space—all factors that play a role in whether your child will smoke or not.

Proactive communication

  • Talk about tobacco use when your children are about aged five or six, and continue to do so into their adolescence.

  • Emphasise the immediate risks that include ease of addiction, reduced health and fitness levels, coughing and throat irritation, bad breath, smelly hair and clothes, and wasting money that can be spent on other things that are important to them.

  • Explain to your children that even if they do not smoke every day, young people can become addicted within days to weeks of starting to smoke.

  • Mention the long-term risks of smoking, though thinking so far into the future may have less of an impact on them. The risks include cancer, heart disease, lung disease, birth defects, and it can kill.

  • Continue talking about the dangers of smoking as your children grow up. Let them know if friends or relatives are ill from or have died due to smoking-related illnesses.

  • Know if your children’s friends smoke. Discuss how to respond to peer pressure about smoking.

  • Discuss how media images of people smoking are designed to be appealing.

Display empathy

  • Allow open channels of communication, where your children are comfortable to share things and be honest with you, with no fear of punishment or judgment.

  • Recognise when your children do the right thing, as this will build their self-confidence and help them stand firm against peer pressure.

  • Empathise and try to understand why your children are attracted to smoking.

  • Don’t overreact if you suspect your children are smoking. Stay calm and don’t jump to conclusions.

  • If your suspicions are confirmed, gently probe to find out more about their smoking behaviour rather than immediately reprimanding them.

  • Support them when they want to quit and use positive reinforcement where possible.

Grant autonomy

  • Give your children appropriate levels of freedom. How quickly you hand over responsibility to your teenagers depends on their maturity, your comfort level, and the existing cultural norms. Studies have shown that high levels of parental control are related to higher susceptibility to peer pressure. However, teens who participate in joint decision-making are less susceptible to peer influence[4 ].

  • Have family meetings where your children have a chance to voice their opinions on important family decisions. This will allow them to feel that they are valued and can make a difference to the family. Through observing how your children make choices, you will be able to learn about their maturity levels.

  • Draw clear boundaries by setting firm guidelines on acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. Explain the rationale behind the rules such as no smoking in the home, instead of simply enforcing them.

  • For smoking, there are also legal issues to consider. In Singapore, it is illegal to sell or give any tobacco product to a person under 18 years. No minor is allowed to consume or to possess any tobacco product in public.

Related: Raising Smoke-Free Teens

If Your Child Already Smokes

Helping Your Child to Quit Smoking

If your teenager is already smoking, you can help him or her to quit. Avoid threats and angry confrontations as they rarely work. Instead, take a reasonable conversational tone to find out why your child is smoking. Then, reward your teen when he or she quits.

If you smoke, reflect more on your smoking behaviour and for the sake of setting a positive example for your child, consider quitting. But if you used to smoke, share your struggles and talk to your child about your experience.

Quitting is difficult not only for teens, but also for adults. When the desire to smoke hits, consider the six D’s of quitting:

  • Determine the reasons to quit: List down all the reasons to quit smoking and refer to the list whenever you are tempted to smoke. (An example of a reason can be: I want to quit smoking so that I can use the money saved to buy a blouse or a game). Parents should encourage their children who smoke, to draw up the same list, and to gently remind them to constantly refer to the list whenever they are tempted to smoke.

  • Decide on a method: There are various ways to quit smoking. You can quit by completely stopping smoking (cold turkey), or by reducing the cigarette consumption gradually. Choosing a method that you are comfortable with would help sustain the motivation to quit!

  • Destroy tobacco products in your home: Throw away all cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays and matches, to reduce the temptation to smoke!

  • Delay: When there is an urge to smoke, take deep breaths or drink a glass of warm water. Try to delay the urge to smoke every time there is one. Always remember that the desire will eventually go away.

  • Distract yourself: Pick up new hobbies to distract yourself! If both the parents and the child smoke, they could consider picking up a new hobby together. A new hobby would allow the attention to be diverted to learning new things and creating new experiences. This would also help to generate more bonding time between the parents and the child.

  • Discuss: if you are a parent hoping to support your children in their quitting journey, having open conversations with them would help. You should display empathy, and avoid confrontational talks with your children. Gently probe them to share their thoughts and feelings. It will also be useful if you could constantly share with your children the different methods to cope with withdrawal symptoms.

Applying the appropriate parenting strategies can have a positive impact on your teens. But even if your children end up smoking, it does not make you a failure as a parent. Learn from your experiences to figure out how to improve your parenting strategies, and if your children are smoking, how to help them to stop.

Read these next:


  1. Walsh, R. A., & Sanson-Fisher, R. W. (2001). Encouraging People to Stop Smoking [Scholarly Project]. In Behavioural Science Learning Modules. Retrieved January, 2016, from http://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/stop_smoking_whomsdmdp01_4.pdf.

  2. World Health Organization. (2015, July 6). Tobacco [Fact sheet]. Retrieved January, 2015, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs339/en/.

  3. Otten, R., Engels, R. C., & Van den Eijnden, R. J. (2007). General parenting, anti-smoking socialization and smoking onset. Health Education Research, 23(5), 859-869. Retrieved January, 2016, from https://her.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/5/859.full#ref-1.