What parents say, how they act, and the values they communicate through their words and deeds has an enormous influence on children; and that applies to tobacco use, as well. Studies have found that parental actions, attitudes, and opinions about smoking have a great deal of influence on whether or not kids smoke. A recent study found that parental antismoking actions such as having restrictions about smoking in the home in place or sitting in non-smoking sections of restaurants are associated with reductions in children’s smoking. Specifically, parents can take the following actions to help ensure that their children remain (or become) tobacco-free:
If you do not smoke, do not start! If you do smoke, quit! Research shows that children who have a parent who smokes are more likely to smoke and to be heavier smokers at young ages. When parents quit smoking, their children become less likely to start smoking and more likely to quit if they already smoke.
If you smoke, share your struggles to quit with your children. Kids greatly underestimate how difficult it is to quit smoking. Showing how hard it is to quit (and making sure quitting does not look easy) can help eliminate this misperception. Continuing to try to quit, despite the difficulties, also sends a strong anti-smoking message.
Maintain a smoke-free home. A smoke-free home makes children less likely to smoke, even if their parents smoke. By not allowing anyone to smoke in his or her homes, parents not only make smoking less convenient for their kids but also make a powerful statement that they believe smoking is undesirable.
Tell your kids that you do not want them to smoke and will be disappointed if they do. Parental attitudes, opinions, and feelings about their kids’ smoking status greatly influence whether or not kids will smoke, even when the parents smoke.
Make sure your kids have the facts they need. By making sure that their kids know how harmful smoking is, parents can help their kids to develop a firm, negative perception or attitude about smoking practices and their consequences, and kids with such negative perceptions or attitudes are less likely to smoke.
Emphasise the immediate health effects. Most teenagers wrongly believe that smoking will have no direct effect on their health until they reach middle age. But smoking causes many immediate or near-term effects on health, including persistent coughs, respiratory problems, a greater susceptibility to illness, and decreased physical performance.
Emphasise the effects of smoking on physical appearance. Cigarette ads create the image that smoking is sexy and attractive; and kids identify improving self-image as a reason for smoking. But smoking actually causes yellow teeth, bad breath, smelly clothes, and more severe and early facial wrinkles.
Destroy the myth that everybody smokes. Many kids overestimate the amount of smoking among their peers and such overestimation is among the strongest predictors of smoking initiation. Parents can also help to keep their kids from smoking by following basic good-parenting practices. For example, kids who do well in school and participate in structured, extra-curricular activities are less likely to be susceptible to smoking – and parents can encourage and support both. As an added bonus, by setting and consistently enforcing realistic rules, talking to their children, paying attention to the kinds of friends their kids are associating with, and generally staying interested and involved in their children’s lives, parents can not only reduce the risk that their children will smoke but also reduce the chances that they will become involved in other risky behaviours, such as alcohol and other drug use, early sexual involvement, and the like.
Show your kids how cigarette ads and images are designed to manipulate them. Parents can reduce the powerful impact of all the cigarette ads and positive-smoking images that confront kids every day by talking with their children about the ads’ false ideas of glamour, maturity, coolness, and beauty, and about how the tobacco companies try to manipulate kids into becoming their future addicted consumers.
Make your kids’ schools tobacco-free. By getting more involved in their children’s schools, parents can try to make sure that the schools follow effective anti-smoking policies
Support other local tobacco-prevention efforts, such as new laws to make Restaurants and other public areas smoke-free or new initiatives to enforce the existing laws that prohibit cigarette sales to kids.
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