Keep Your Kids Tobacco-free

Studies have found that children really do listen when parents advise them to avoid tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. Take some time to talk to your children about the hazards of using tobacco. It can make a big difference in their lives.

Facts About Tobacco Use

Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of death in the United States. It causes heart diseases, cancers, and strokes. Children may not realize or understand the hazards associated with all types of tobacco.

Compared to children who do not use tobacco, children who do use tobacco may:

  • Develop more respiratory problems
  • Have more asthma attacks
  • Get sick and go to the doctor more often
  • Have poorer athletic performance

There are common myths among children regarding tobacco use. Here are the realities:

  • Most people, including teens, adults, and athletes do not use tobacco.
  • Chew tobacco, cigars, and low-tar and additive-free, or electronic cigarettes are not safe alternatives to regular cigarettes.
  • Quitting is very difficult. It can't be done at any time. Most smokers attempt to quit many times before succeeding.

Take a Stand at Home—Early and Often

Studies show that movies, TV, and advertising do have an influence on children who start smoking. Despite this, parents can be the greatest influence in their children's lives. Here are some guidelines for helping keep your children tobacco free:

Talk About It

Do not be afraid to talk about tobacco. Keep these simple tips in mind when you feel the time is right for conversation:

  • Begin talking to your children about tobacco use when they are 5-6 years old and continue right through high school. Children can start using tobacco and become addicted before they enter high school.
  • Talk directly to your children about the risks of tobacco use. If friends or relatives died from tobacco-related illnesses, let them know.
  • Tell your children how you feel about tobacco use. Let them know that you would be disappointed if they used tobacco.
  • Talk to your children about the offensiveness of tobacco use, such as the smell, bad breath, or yellowing of teeth.
  • Talk about the false glamorization of tobacco in the media.
  • If your children ask why tobacco is legal, tell them that the rules do not always make sense. Help them understand that the chemicals in (or added to) tobacco are dangerous.

Be an Example

  • If you use tobacco, you can still make a difference. Your best move, of course, is to try to quit. Meanwhile, do not use tobacco in your children’s presence. Take some time to talk about tobacco's addictive nature, the bad effects it has on you, and how hard it really is to quit.
  • Do not offer tobacco to your children, and do not leave it where they can easily get it.
  • Pay attention to whether your children’s friends use tobacco. Help your children to come up with ways to say no to tobacco.
  • Discourage your children from buying items, such as t-shirts, hats, or back packs associated with cigarette companies.
  • Do not waste money on tobacco. Use it for clothes, CDs, computer games, and movies.

What if your child has already tried smoking? Do not be confrontational or set ultimatums. Dig a bit deeper and find out why your child is smoking. It may be easier to help your child quit. Remember that nicotine is addictive and you will need to take action quickly so that you can reduce the chances of your child becoming a habitual smoker.

Make a Difference in Your Community

You can take action outside of your home, too. For example:

  • Vote with your pocketbook. Support businesses that do not sell tobacco to children. Give your business to establishments that are tobacco-free.
  • Be sure your schools and all school events are tobacco-free.
  • Partner with your local tobacco prevention programs. Call your local health department and your cancer, heart, or lung association to learn how you can get involved.
  • If your children are involved in sports, ask their coaches to talk to them about the effects of smoking on athletic performance.

American Lung Association

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics


Canadian Cancer Society

The Lung Association


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Preventing tobacco use among youth and young adults. A Report of the Surgeon General. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Accessed October 24, 2016.

Smoking. Nemours Kid's Health website. Available at: Updated June 2016. Accessed October 24, 2016.

Tobacco use. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated April 6, 2016. Accessed October 24, 2016.

6/5/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Dalton MA, Beach ML, et al. Early exposure to movie smoking predicts established smoking by older teens and young adults. Pediatrics. 2009;123(4):e551-e558.

10/5/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Kim MJ, Fleming CB, et al. Individual and social influences on progression to daily smoking during adolescence. Pediatrics. 2009;124(3):895-902.

Last reviewed October 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 11/25/2014