You Caught Your Teen Smoking, Now What?

People still smoke, which is hard to believe given everything we know about the health hazards. Among American adults, 18 percent of the population, or 42 million people, still smoke. Still, the rate of smoking has declined greatly over the last several decades and continues to go down. You don’t smoke. Your partner doesn’t smoke. So it came as a big surprise when you caught your teenager smoking. How should you handle the situation so that he doesn’t continue with this deadly habit?

Teens and Smoking: The Facts

Government statistics show that, overall, smoking rates are down around the country and across demographics. Even better, these rates continue to decline. But what about teens? Three million high school students smoke. A disturbing 600,000 middle school students smoke cigarettes and one in four high school seniors smokes. We also know that if we can prevent young people from smoking before the age of 26, they are unlikely to ever pick up the habit. Prevention is the most important strategy, but that isn’t always possible.

When You Catch Your Child With a Cigarette

The first thing to remember as you think about how to react is to keep your cool. Blowing up in a rage at a teenager rarely does any good. Before confronting him, take time to think about what you want to say. Compose yourself and discuss the situation with your partner. Your next step is to start a conversation. Your teen is not likely to respond any better to a lecture than he would to an emotional outburst. Approach from a position of authority and come armed with nothing but the facts. The facts about cigarettes, including that they are still the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., speak for themselves. There is no need to use fear tactics or to exaggerate. The truth is frightening enough. After stating the facts, ask your teen to talk to you about his smoking, how long he has been doing it and why he started. Allow him to ask questions. Hopefully after your conversation, your teen will be prepared to make a commitment to stop smoking. Set rules and expectations and declare your family smoke-free. Tell your teen that you will be checking up on him to make sure that he means what he says. If he is already hooked and is afraid he can’t stop smoking, offer support to help him quit. You might be surprised at how quickly someone can start to experience withdrawal from smoking. Nicotine is highly addictive, so believe him if he tells you it’s hard for him to stop. The National Cancer Institute offers a free program designed to help teens stop smoking. Consider signing your teen up for SmokefreeTXT. He will receive texts every day for several weeks that will give him pointers and reminders to help him stop. He can also text the service when he feels cravings or has a question and he will get a prompt response. Finding out that your teen is smoking is upsetting and frightening. The most important thing you can do is persist in insisting that he stop. Cigarettes kill, and if you can stop the problem now, you may be saving his life. Keep calm and avoid lecturing, but do be persistent and do offer help. You’ll find that he’ll thank you, eventually.

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