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Keeping Kids From Lighting Up

(Page 3 of 3)

Research indicates that if a child has a parent who smokes, he or she is more likely to try tobacco. But such parents can set aside their own feelings of guilt, Clark says, "and tell their teen how profoundly disappointed they would be if their child started." The script should be, she says, "I'm a smoker, but you're not going to be." That approach has worked with Sheri, a Nashville, Tenn. seventh grader. Her mother smokes but she doesn't. "She tells me all the down sides, because she knows from experience."

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A gateway drug

Parents sometimes rationalize that "oh, it's only smoking, not something worse." But tobacco is a gateway drug, often leading to marijuana or other drugs, says Ms. Halbach.

As a parent, you need to follow through with penalty when you catch them, says Clark. Take away privileges or if they're younger, take away their allowance. If a child says "my friends made me," dissect every action in in minute tedium. "Who took off the wrapper? Who put it in your mouth? Who lit it? Who smoked it?" Ask "At what point did your friend stop and you take over? What kind of image do you think you're portraying to others about yourself?" says Clark.

If they're already addicted they need to get professional help. Halbach suggests a cessation program that is nonjudgmental in tone.

Finally, communities need to back up parents. If you see a clerk selling cigarettes to a 12- year-old, say something, Clark says. If you see someone else's youngster smoking, make the call to his parent. "We all have to speak out to protect children,"she says.


* Let children know how you feel about tobacco use. Kids want to know the boundaries, and they can't know the rules unless you tell them. Be clear about the rules, with no mixed messages.

* Children do listen. They may rebel at first, but when it comes to making decisions about risky behaviors, they value and use clear messages they have been given by their parents.

* Don't assume children will learn to be smoke-free at school. They may hear about the health risks, but often believe that they are personally invincible.

* Make an emotional appeal. Telling a child how hurt or disappointed you would be if they decided to smoke has more impact than reasoning with them about the health dangers.

* Peer pressure is often used as an excuse. Take the issue seriously, but help your child understand that they are responsible for their own actions.

* Be a good role model. If you smoke, set aside your own feelings about it, and make it clear that you expect your child to not use tobacco.

* If relatives smoke, instruct them not to provide tobacco to your child.

* Don't believe that tobacco use is less dangerous than other risky behavior. Many studies link tobacco use with immediate health and social consequences, and teen smoking produces, on average, 20 years of addiction.

* Help clean up tobacco in your child's environment. Insist on tobacco-free school zones, and protest if neighborhood stores sell tobacco to children.

* It is never too early or too late to intervene. Some children take their first puffs at ages 7 to 9. Even those who have been smoking for several years can be helped to quit.

- Pamela Clark, a researcher on youth smoking and a professor at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown.