Where do you start?
Prevention Tips from Alberta Health Services – Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission
Teens try smoking for the same reasons their parents and grandparents did. First, they have friends that smoke, and they want to fit in. Peer pressure is a very important influence during these years. Teens want to feel accepted, and copy what their friends do.
Perhaps more importantly, adults smoke. Teens are looking for ways to be more ‘grown up,’ and smoking is seen as adult behaviour. They also try smoking out of curiosity, or because they think it portrays a cool or rebellious image. This myth has been encouraged by tobacco advertising and Hollywood movies. Some teens start because they think it will help them stay slim or deal with stress.
We know that the vast majority of current smokers started smoking in their teens. Very few people start smoking as adults. In fact, those who make it to adulthood without smoking are not likely to ever start. This is why it is so important that teens do not begin to smoke. Smoking prevention programs aimed at youth can make a huge difference.
Smoking rates among teenagers have gone down significantly over the last ten years. The Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey (CTUMS) has evaluated smoking rates for Canadians every year since 1999. The 2007 survey shows that smoking rates among 15 to 19 year olds remained the same as in 2006 at15 per cent. This is down from 18 per cent in 2005. There is no difference between the smoking rates of girls and boys.
These results are very promising. They show that in spite of the pressure teens face, more and more are making the choice to stay tobacco-free. It also helps reminds us that the vast majority of teenagers are non-smokers. Such facts may help teens feeling pressure to start smoking.
The federal government, and each provincial government in Canada, have plans in place to address tobacco use. For instance, in 2002 Alberta introduced the Alberta Tobacco Reduction Strategy (ATRS). It aims to prevent young people from starting to use tobacco, at reducing non-smokers’ exposure to second-hand smoke, and helping users to quit.
Tobacco use does not just involve cigarettes. Tobacco can be used in many ways, some very popular among teenagers. These include:
Whatever method is used, tobacco remains both addictive and dangerous.
The best and most important thing you can do as a parent is talk to your teens (and younger children too!) about smoking and tobacco use. Many parents avoid this conversation. Some think their kids know better than to start smoking. Others believe their teens will not listen to them. Parents who are smokers themselves worry that telling their teens not to smoke seems hypocritical.
Although most teenagers are aware of the dangers of tobacco use, some still decide to try it. Adolescence is a difficult period. Teens try to define themselves as they transition into adulthood. Smoking can be a way to establish an identity and fit a certain image or group of people. Teenagers need guidance from their parents to help them find other ways of defining themselves, and to help resist peer pressure.
If you are concerned that your teen will not listen, you should know that most teens value their parents’ opinions. In The Alberta Youth Experience Survey, parents were listed as the most important factor in helping teens make healthy choices about drug and alcohol use. By sharing your thoughts, opinions and values about tobacco use, you can help teens to stay tobacco free.
If you smoke, it is even more important to talk to your teens about the effects of smoking. They are more likely to smoke than other teens, and you can reduce that risk by talking to them about it. Explain why you started, and talk about what it is like to be addicted. Share what it has been like trying to quit.
It is never too early to begin talking. Educating kids about tobacco can start in elementary school. If children get the message from home and at school that it is not okay to use tobacco products, the chance of staying tobacco-free rises. You are your child’s first line of defence against the damage tobacco can do. Keep talking!
Many youth-based tobacco reduction programs are currently being offered in school and community settings. These programs focus on prevention, quitting, education, support, or a combination. The following programs are offered in Alberta, but similar programs exist in provinces and territories across Canada.
Health In Perspective (HIP) and Teens ‘n’ Transitions (TNT): HIP and TNT are peer mentor programs. Trained high school mentors meet weekly with students in grades five and six (HIP) or grade eight (TNT). Mentors talk about tobacco use and other difficult issues kids may be facing, including self-image, stress, peer pressure, nutrition and more. The goal is to help students develop the skills they need to make healthy, positive choices as they grow – including the decision to be tobacco-free.
Kick the Nic: Kick the Nic is a smoking cessation program for teens. Group sessions focus on peer support and skill building. Teens learn strategies to avoid tobacco use, commit to quitting, develop a quit-plan and receive support to remain tobacco free.
Teaming Up for Tobacco Free Kids: Teaming Up is a school-based prevention program aimed at students in grades four, five and six. It consists of three 45-minute lesson plans for each grade level. The goals are to increase awareness about the risks and prevent children from starting to use tobacco.
For more information: Teaming Up for Tobacco Free Kids (www.tobaccostinks.com)
Building Leadership for Action in Schools Today (BLAST): BLAST is a youth leadership tobacco reduction program for grade seven to nine students. Interactive methods challenge kids to think critically about tobacco products, the industry, and the effects of using tobacco. Participants attend a conference and develop a plan to reduce tobacco use in their schools and communities. With the help of coaches, the plan is implemented over the six months following the conference.
For more information: Building Leadership for Action in Schools Today (BLAST) (www.blastonline.com).
Canadian government agencies, health authorities, community organizations, schools, families and youth themselves are all working to make teen smoking a thing of the past. Great strides have already been made. Each day, more teens are making the decision to take control of their health by saying no to tobacco.