To talk to teens about smoking, parents first need to educate themselves about tobacco, nicotine, and alternatives to tobacco that are used by teens today. Nicotine, regardless of the source, is dangerous especially for adolescents as it affects brain development, disrupts the neural circuits that control attention and learning as well as increases susceptibility to addiction, anxiety, and depression. Although vaping is rampant among teenagers today, many parents are not fully informed about these products. Vapes or e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol which is inhaled into the lungs. These devices may look like cigarettes or everyday items such as pens, memory sticks, or pen drives and most are refillable. As per claims, the aerosol used is free from tobacco and may or may not contain nicotine. The aerosol, however, does contain many different chemicals which when heated becomes a vapor that is inhaled. In India, the possession of e-cigarettes and similar devices is a violation of the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarette Act (PECA) 2019. 


You can choose a specific moment to approach the subject or be spontaneous. It is easy to start the conversation with your child when you see someone smoking on the street or on screen. Nearly 90 percent of adults who smoke daily start before 18, so the sooner you have this chat, the better it will be. Children as young as five years may ask about smoking if they have seen someone with a cigarette in hand. If either parent is a smoker, then the challenge of having discussions to discourage them from this activity is a more challenging task. Of course, it always helps to lead by example, so do consider quitting. But remember that you can influence your child positively even if you smoke yourself. For parents who are smokers, your child will listen if your openly discuss your struggles with addiction and how you regret starting in the first place. Communicate that you expect your child to live a healthy, tobacco-free life. 


Children are less likely to smoke if they know that their parents disapprove of it. You can tell them about family or friends who have suffered from smoking-related health problems. Talk to your child every chance you get, and the best thing you can do to reduce your child’s risk is to prepare them to resist peer pressure by saying “NO” when they are offered a smoke. 


Teens start smoking because they are curious or because they want to “fit in” or be like others (parents, actors). Some may even wish to assert their independence and appear more grown up. A few see it as a way to escape family conflicts or to control their anxiety or emotions. 


Start by casually asking your teen if they have tried smoking or vaping, or if any of their friends have tried it. You want to encourage a conversation, not shut it down. Do not sound judgmental, don’t dramatize the situation and avoid lecturing. Even if you don’t think your kid vapes or smokes, talk about it with them anyway. Mention the short-term and long-term risks of smoking and vaping. Stay calm, ask open-ended questions and keep the conversation positive. 


You can tell your kids they don’t have to smoke a lot or smoke for a long duration to get a disease from it. Many kids have trigged severe asthma from just trying to smoke or vape. The brain is still developing up to the age of 25 and smoking/vaping can have long-lasting effects. Talk about how these addictions can affect athletic or academic performance, activity levels, attention spans, concentration, memory and control of emotions. Talk about very serious risks of vaping such as lung injury and inflammation (EVALI or e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury) that can lead to death. Whilst many teens may try to defend their habit and not admit or even accept that they are addicted, equipped with accurate information, a parent can counter their claims. 


Your teen will argue that vaping is safer than smoking. While that may be true for a smoker who is trying to cut down on smoking, it is not for ‘virgin lungs’ which will get hit by the chemicals. Some kids believe that the vapor is only flavored with no harmful effects on the body. Show them the research or explain that at least 20 such aerosols have been shown to cause damage to the lungs and other organs. Some vapes may also contain marijuana distillates or oils. Teenage brains are more susceptible to psychological dependence and will have more difficulty in quitting in future. 


While it is difficult to smoke indoors or at public places, it is easy to use the smoke-free vapes anywhere unnoticed, even at school. So, don’t avoid this talk. Lastly, remember, an empty mind is a devil’s workshop. So, keep your child occupied in constructive activities and encourage sports. This will reduce the chances of your child trying cigarettes, vapes, hookah, or other such products. 

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