Teens and Smoking

It is well known that smoking is harmful to your health, but there are still many teens who smoke, chew tobacco, or vape. Nearly all long-term smokers started smoking before the age of 19. And, if one or both parents smoke, kids have at least twice the risk of becoming regular smokers by the time they graduate from high school. Learn more facts about tobacco and cancer and how it affects different groups of people.

Tips to keep my teen from smoking

Prevention is the way to go. The younger a child begins to smoke, the more likely they are to become an adult smoker. Here are some tips:

  • Be the person you want your children to become. If you smoke, quit.
  • If you can’t quit, don’t despair. Research suggests that smokers have a better likelihood of raising kids who don’t smoke if they take part in an anti-smoking program with their children. So even if you smoke, make that your motivation to take an even more active role in talking to your kids about smoking, peer pressure, advertising, and your own experiences and regrets. Use the resources listed below.
  • Educate your child about the tobacco industry’s manipulation and deception. Teens want to exercise their free will and rebel against something. Point out how the tobacco industry tries to hook them on a habit that is very hard to break. Point out the dishonesty of the industry. These are some of the strategies that have proven most effective in reducing teen smoking rates and in mobilizing young tobacco control advocates.
  • Since viewing smoking in movies increases teen smoking, watch movies with your kids and, when you see smoking, use it as a way to start conversations about tobacco and the tobacco industry.
  • Use the Smoke Screeners educational program with your 11- to 14-year-old child to help them learn to see subtle media messages about smoking.
  • Educate your teens on the dangers of smokeless tobacco.

What about vaping?

Vaping is the inhaling and exhaling of nicotine mist. E-cigarettes (and similar devices such as vape pens and vaporizers) are battery-powered devices that convert liquid nicotine into mist. These devices are not lit, so there is no ash or smoke. Marketers of these products claim the ingredients are safe as e-cigarettes/vape pens do not contain all of the harmful chemicals associated with smoking tobacco cigarettes. However, vaping still exposes users to a variety of chemicals, some of which are known to be toxic or carcinogenic (causes cancer). There have been cases of severe lung injury due to vaping, though the specific chemical in e-cigarettes has yet to be identified. In 2019, the CDC has identified over 200 cases of severe lung injury due to vaping, including two deaths. So not only is vaping dangerous, but teens who vape are also much more likely to start smoking conventional cigarettes. 

How can I help my child stop smoking?

Below is a list of resources that many parents find helpful as they tackle the problem of teens and smoking:

What are some organizations and governmental agencies that address second-hand smoke and youth tobacco use?

Additional resources:


 Written by Kyla Boyse, RN and Samuel Neher, MD. Reviewed by Katie Miller, MD

Updated September 2019