Teen smoking: How to help your teen quit
Medically reviewed on October 9, 2017
If you find your teen smoking, take it seriously. Stopping teen smoking in its tracks is the best way to promote a lifetime of good health.
Set a good example
As a parent, you're a powerful influence in your teen's life. However, if you smoke, your teen might interpret your actions as an endorsement for the behavior. Ask your doctor about stop-smoking products and resources to help you stop smoking.
In the meantime, don't smoke in the house, in the car or in front of your teen, and don't leave cigarettes where your teen might find them. Explain how unhappy you are with your smoking, and why it's important to you to quit.
Tell your teen how much you want him or her to stop smoking. It's an important message. But keep in mind that commands, threats and ultimatums aren't likely to work. Instead of getting angry, ask your teen what made him or her start smoking. Perhaps your teen is trying to fit in at school, or get your attention. Sometimes teen smoking is an attempt to feel grown-up.
Once you understand why your teen is smoking, you'll be better equipped to address the problem — as well as help your teen stop smoking.
Encourage your teen to share his or her concerns
Although the consequences of smoking — such as cancer, heart attack and stroke — are real, they're probably not on your teen's mind. Rather than lecturing your teen on the dangers of smoking, ask what your teen considers the negative aspects of smoking. Offer your own list, too. Consider appealing to your teen's vanity:
- Smoking gives you bad breath.
- Smoking makes your clothes and hair smell.
- Smoking turns your teeth and fingernails yellow.
- Smoking causes wrinkles.
- Smoking causes shortness of breath and a persistent cough.
- Smoking zaps your energy for sports and other activities.
Smoking is also expensive. Ask your teen to calculate the weekly, monthly or yearly cost of smoking. Compare the cost of smoking with electronic devices, clothes or other items your teen considers important.
Discourage electronic cigarettes
You might have heard of using electronic cigarettes, often called e-cigarettes, as a way to quit smoking. Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices designed to look like regular tobacco cigarettes. In an electronic cigarette, an atomizer heats a liquid containing nicotine, turning it into a vapor that can be inhaled and creating a vapor cloud that resembles cigarette smoke.
Manufacturers claim that electronic cigarettes are a safe alternative to conventional cigarettes. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has questioned the safety of these products. In addition, research hasn't shown that e-cigarettes help people quit smoking. Until more is known about the potential risks, the safe play is to avoid electronic cigarettes.
Help your teen make a plan
Teens can become addicted to nicotine quickly. Nicotine dependence symptoms can appear within days to weeks of the start of occasional cigarette use. While many teens who smoke think they can stop anytime, research shows this isn't usually true.
When you talk to your teen about stopping smoking, ask if any of his or her friends have tried to stop smoking. Consider why they were — or weren't — successful. Ask your teen which stop-smoking strategies he or she thinks might work best. Offer your own suggestions as well:
- Put it on paper. Encourage your teen to write down why he or she wants to stop smoking. The list can help your teen stay motivated when temptation arises.
- Set a quit date. Help your teen choose a date to stop smoking.
- Hang out with friends who don't smoke. Would your teen's friends support your teen's stop-smoking plan? Would they try to stop smoking, too? If your teen feels pressured by friends to smoke, encourage him or her to spend time with friends who don't smoke or to get involved in new activities.
- Practice saying no. Help your teen practice saying, "No thanks, I don't smoke."
- Be prepared for cravings. Remind your teen that if he or she can hold out long enough — usually just a few minutes — the nicotine craving will pass. Suggest taking a few deep breaths. Offer sugarless gum, cinnamon sticks, toothpicks or straws to help your teen keep his or her mouth busy.
- Consider stop-smoking products. Although nicotine replacement products — such as nicotine gums, patches, inhalers or nasal sprays — weren't designed for teens, they might be helpful in some cases. Ask your teen's doctor about the options.
- Seek support. A tobacco-cessation specialist can give your teen the tools and support he or she needs to stop smoking. Some hospitals and local organizations offer stop-smoking groups for teens. You might look for teen groups online, too. Web-based programs can support your teen whenever he or she needs it.
If your teen slips, remain supportive. Congratulate your teen on the progress he or she has made, and encourage your teen not to give up. Help your teen identify what went wrong and what to do differently next time.
Above all, celebrate your teen's success. You might offer a favorite meal for a smoke-free day, a new shirt for a smoke-free week or a party with nonsmoking friends for a smoke-free month. Rewards and positive reinforcement can help your teen maintain the motivation to stop smoking for good.