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What to tell your teen about smoking

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Last week, thousands of teens and 20-somethings rallied at over 1,000 anti-tobacco events around the country and around the world for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ 17th annual Kick Butts Day. But according to a new surgeon general’s report about teen smoking, every day should be Kick Butts Day.

One in four high school seniors smokes cigarettes. Most will become adult smokers and half will die prematurely from tobacco’s effects according to the report – the first on teens and smoking since 1964. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin called smoking a “pediatric epidemic.” While youth smoking rates dropped for a while, they leveled out in 2007.

Behind the stall-out? Groups like CTFK say tobacco companies are targeting teens as replacement smokers for the hundreds of thousands of older, long-time smokers dying each year. Benjamin’s report says tobacco industry come-ons aimed at young people are using a variety of promotional tricks to get teens to try tobacco – and encourage them to keep using.

How can you help teens in your house resist or quit if they’re already smoking? Show – and tell – them this:

Tell them tobacco companies want them hooked. According to the report, Big Tobacco’s dreamed up special products to attract younger smokers, and sells them at deep discounts at convenience stores – where a huge percentage of young people go for snacks each week. Like smokeless tobacco in colorful packages and fruity flavors. And cigars and cigarillos in fruit and even candy flavors.

Know that cigarettes are more addictive than ever. A Harvard University study found that the amount of nicotine delivered to a smoker’s lungs per cigarette rose 11 percent from 1998 to 2005. That means stopping once you start is more difficult than ever.

Warn that the health effects start now. If long-term effects like heart attacks, strokes, cancer, lung disease, brittle bones and an early death aren’t compelling, tell them about the stuff that’ll start happening within days or weeks. Like stinky hair and clothes, bad-looking skin, bad breath, higher risk for injuries (including sports injuries) and slower healing time due to reduced circulation and weakened connective tissue, not-so-hot sports performance due to breathing problems and more sick days due to colds and flu.

Show them the CDC’s new ads. A series of graphic anti-smoking videos featuring real people – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Tips from Former Smokers” campaign – boosted calls to smoking ‘quit lines’ 77 percent on the campaign’s first day and up to 200 percent since then. Watch the ads here.

Help them quit. Your teen can find a quit line here and get more information and support for quitting from the American Lung Association’s widely used, successful and voluntary teen quit program Not On Tobacco.

What about you? Any tips for other parents on how to keep kids away from tobacco?

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