Your teenage children and smoking

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Your teenage children and smoking  (1964) 
United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
your teenage children and smoking


Although this pamphlet is addressed to parents, it grew out of the ideas, opinions and wishes of the teenagers who came to Washington, D.C., from every State of the Union to take part in the National Conference on Smoking and Youth held by the Children's Bureau, April 30, May 1 and 2, 1964.

These 125 young men and women not only talked of what they thought about smoking or not smoking, they expressed themselves about how they wished their parents would handle the problem with them and how in the future they hoped to handle it with their own children.

Whatever your children do about smoking, what decision they make, it must come from an inner belief of their need to safeguard their health.

Hopefully, this pamphlet will give you ideas and guides that will help you help your children reach their own decision. Onto that framework, apply what you know about your children, how you get along together, and how you think you can best adapt the suggestions this pamphlet makes.

During your talks with your children about smoking, you may want to bring to their attention that they have a responsibility to our society and to contribute by living a long and useful life.

Katherine B. Oettinger

Chief, Children's Bureau
Welfare Administration

your teenage children and smoking

BY NOW, most parents in this country have heard of the report to the Surgeon General on SMOKING AND HEALTH. They know about the alarming facts it contains. And for some time, their worries about their children who are already smoking, or their fears that they may take it up, have been increasing.

SMOKING AND HEALTH leaves no doubt that the person—the man, woman, boy, girl—who smokes is already on a road to possible disability and an earlier death.

SMOKING AND HEALTH is written in medical terms. In day-to-day language, it says:

If your child smokes cigarettes, chances are much greater that he will die of lung cancer, or chronic bronchitis, or emphysema (serious lung disease), or coronary heart disease.

The earlier your boy or girl starts cigarette smoking, the greater the chances are that he will become a heavy smoker and develop the habit of inhaling, which further increases the risk of early disability and a shortened life. The longer your child puts off starting smoking or the sooner he can break the habit, the greater his chances are of avoiding that fate.

In connection with the report, the Surgeon General says: "Millions of today's children will needlessly become sick, disabled, or die before their time."

The American Public Health Association warns: "A million children will die of lung cancer before they reach the age of 70."

As they hear more and more such statements, parents are asking:

"How can I help my child never to smoke?"
"How can I help my child to stop smoking?"

It is understandable that parents want to do something about their children's smoking—especially when they learn that more and more young people are taking up smoking, earlier and earlier.

No one seems to know all of the best ways to get a young person to stop smoking or never to start. Persons who study why children do certain things and who try to find ways to get them to change often disagree about smoking prevention. They do agree, though, on at least a few things that seem to have much weight with some children:

The smoking pattern in the home.
The medical facts.
Ideas about smoking.


Possibly the most important thing that influences a child to smoke or not to smoke is his family. If his parents smoke, the chances are greater that he will smoke also. Even when one parent smokes, it increases the chances of the daughter or son smoking.

So if you want your child never to smoke or to give it up if he already smokes, don't smoke yourself.

An example in others can work, also; for instance, the practice of anyone he likes or who is important in his life: his teacher, the members of his gang, his club leader, his coach, his doctor, his minister, his older brothers and sisters, his relatives, his "heroes" whether they be movie or TV stars, athletes, or national leaders.


If you smoke and are not able to stop smoking, be frank with your children about that. Tell them that you wish you could stop, but that you can't. Tell them that you hope they will never get themselves in such a fix. Tell them that when you started to smoke you didn't have the facts that you now have; that it is possible you have cut off years of life by your own smoking.

Say that it is so hard to give up cigarettes that that in itself is one good argument for never starting smoking.

Along with the words, make as strong an effort as possible to at least cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke. Try to stop inhaling so much and so deeply.

If you make a bargain with your child about his not smoking or your not smoking, never break your end of it.

Many parents, who are continuing to smoke cigarettes, try not to smoke before their young children. They do not leave cigarettes lying around. They never let their young children play with cigarettes, or light their cigarette or blow out the match.

Some smoking and nonsmoking parents have ground rules about smoking, just as they have about alcoholic drinks for their children.

Even though a parent may allow his child to smoke, he should require that son or daughter abide by community rules for smoking by never violating a "no smoking" sign.


Parents may take many steps to prevent their child from smoking. It is unlikely that these steps will be successful unless the child is convinced and makes up his own mind.

For a long time every young girl and boy has seen people around him smoking. He has heard a steady sales talk about the pleasures and advantages of cigarettes, from people close at hand as well as from the radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, billboards. If his parents present only the anti-smoking side, he may think that they are not being honest with him.

He has often heard and believes many pro-cigarette arguments. For instance:

Smoking helps the smoker concentrate.
Smoking stimulates thinking.
It relaxes and releases tensions.
It soothes nerves.
The act itself and the tobacco taste give pleasure.
It is one of the good things of life.

Smoking may well seem to be and do all of that. But on the other hand, there is no question that smoking can be the road to disability and early death.

From time to time, gently remind your boy or girl of the facts. Try to be able to match each pro-statement with medical evidence of smoking dangers. If you pull the rug out from under his beliefs, do it gently. Always remember, whether you agree with your child or not, your girl or boy has his own beliefs and standards. You wouldn't want it any other way. You want him to have them and fight to keep them inviolate as long as he is convinced they are right.

You may be uncertain yourself about the dangers of smoking. Still your child will want you to take a stand one way or the other. If you do not, he will wonder if you have his best interest at heart. For his sake, say to him: "No smoking for you." By saying "no" you show him that you care about his welfare.


Children say they started to smoke for a number of reasons:

Some girls say it makes them feel more alluring, sophisticated, wanted, companionable.

Likely smoking makes many of them feel that way. But there's another side to the coin: stale tobacco odor on breath and clothes, yellow stains on teeth and fingers.

Both boys and girls say it makes them feel grownup.

No doubt it does make them feel grown-up. Maybe too many times they have heard or been told to wait until they "grow up" before they start smoking or that smoking is for "grownups" only.

But there are so many other things—worthwhile and not dangerous—that will do the same for a child.

Also, many adults are thinking now that smoking is not so grownup after all and are stopping it.

They say smoking relaxes them.

In most everything we do we have to weigh the good against the bad. At first smoking does relax. But in the long run it adds to nervousness and if you practice it long enough it eventually may disable and kill.

And again, maybe we can find ways to relax that are not so risky. Sometimes children say they smoke because all of the gang does. They say: "If I don't smoke, I'm chicken. They wouldn't even speak to me if I didn't."

In family talk from time to time, ease in the idea that to be independent, to follow one's own private beliefs, and not "go with the herd" takes great strength.

And then there are the teenagers who say: "I really feel I'm 'in' when I smoke. Each puff sends rules of home and school to blazes."

And those who crow: "I do it for 'kicks'."

We all remember that "I'm in" feeling. Still, it asks for gentle handling. How, depends on how you have handled similar problems before.

The second one, the "kicks"—that's tough. Maybe the best thing to do, maybe the only thing to do, is to suggest less self-destructive "kicks" instead. What they will be depends on you, your child, the neighborhood. In truth, they depend on all that touches your child's life.


You can change your child's attitudes, beliefs, and behavior only if you give him good reasons why they should be changed. That means you have to convince him that the attitudes, beliefs, and behavior you offer are better.

So, again, be considerate and careful. You might humiliate, hurt, and insult him. That is the last thing in the world that you would want to do. Should you belittle his thoughts, you won't get to first base, and can't blame him if he hates and resists your ideas.

Always consider and discuss patiently with your child any opinion he has about smoking. Many parents have found that admitting that their pro-smoking son or daughter has a point—even to agreeing that to many smokers smoking is everything claimed for it—has proved a sound base from which to start again—calmly and rationally—to consider the problem.


When you start teaching your boy or girl rules to aid good health and protect life. Of course, that is long before he reaches the teens.

Make the nonsmoking policy one on your list of early teachings. The list may be something like this: Immunization against certain diseases, food of the right kind, enough sleep, outdoor exercise and sunshine, clean bodies, nonsmoking, regular checkups by the doctor, safety precautions inside and outside the home, the tenets of your faith, sex education, and so on, including the many, many things that parents are teaching their children from birth on.

Such efforts are more apt to produce good results with most children when they are not accompanied by tearing of the hair and pounding on the table, when we talk of them in a matter-of-fact way and as if they are nothing unusual.

The best time to start the "man to man" teaching about smoking may be about the seventh grade; that is, when the child is getting into the teens. Studies show that that is the time most children really begin to consider seriously taking up the habit. That is when you may want to knuckle down and start the "no doubt what I mean" teaching.

Your child, of course, may become "really interested" sooner than that or much later. Many parents have found that if they deliver a treatise or sermon on cigarette evils earlier, their young children (and even older ones) suspect smoking is "forbidden fruit" and decide to give it a try for their own education. It is best that such results be avoided.

Delaying instructions, waiting for the time when your child has an active interest, may be too late. In other words, it is dangerous to put off adding the "no smoking" warning to your list of health rules.


Here are a few ideas that you and your child may want to talk about:

Some of the smartest people in this country are stopping smoking. They have been in a position to get the facts, and they are acting on them. Doctors in great numbers have stopped, as have many scientists, athletes, teachers, engineers, military men.

In many places, smoking is no longer "the thing."

Smoking costs money. A pack a day may mean about $100 a year. "Is that the way you want your money to go?"

You don't have to wait 10, 15, 20 years for the bad effects of smoking. Some are early—right now, in fact: coughing, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and weight, weakening of taste, bad taste in mouth and on breath, sluggishness, reduced stamina for swimming, tennis, football—all athletics.

Each day, each week, each month, each year you put off smoking, you decrease the risk.

If you stop smoking, things are in your favor.
If you want to be an athlete, smoking is not for you.
If you smoke, you inhale before you realize it. When you are in the habit of inhaling, it may be too late to stop.

If a boy or girl smokes, he can blame nobody but himself. Not his parents, his friends, nor anyone else. Just him.

In a few years teenagers will be fathers and mothers. Then they will have a responsibility to their own children. They owe it to their children to do everything now to keep healthy and to live as long a life as possible.


When given the facts, some children want to make up their own minds without suggestions from their parents. But many others want their mother and father to take a firm stand and tell them what to do or not do.

You will know best how to handle the problem with your child.

Some parents get results by "laying down the law" not to smoke. Such action may work with some children. For a great many, it will not.

If you don't smoke, it may be wiser not to take on a "holier than thou" air.

And don't preach. Try to be calm. Keep a check on your emotions and harsh feelings. Avoid getting into an argument. That's not always easy. But it pays off.


Most children try out smoking. That is one of the many things that most of us do in our pre- and teen-age years. After a puff or two, most leave it alone.

When you learn that your child has been smoking, try not to make a big deal of it. Firmly discourage it. Yet don't make him feel guilty.

At each time when you know that your child has been investigating smoking, again tell him of its dangers. Impress on him how easy it can become a habit—whether he wants that habit or not.


As almost everyone who smokes knows, to break the habit is not easy. Getting the habit is. A few tries at smoking often starts the experimenter down the road to being "hooked." The habit sneaks in, takes over—for keeps—for many of us.

Should your child—who swears off smoking—slip, go gently with him. It does not necessarily mean that he will never be able to break the habit. Don't let him think that he is weak, or doomed. Back him up. Say that next time he tries you will help him try harder.

And, of course, if you are the one who trips over your declaration of nonsmoking, admit to your child your failure and make your regrets.


It's most likely that you are not alone in your community, or town, city, or State, in hoping to help your child successfully meet the smoking problem. Your close neighbors may have some of the same unanswered questions that are worrying you. Talk with them. Their plan may be of help to you and, in turn, you may be able to give them some assistance.

Parents in some neighborhoods have banded together and made community rules for their children regarding week-night hours for outside activities, week-end hours, and so on. Rules ought to be made on smoking also.

Find out what your health department, your child's school, your church, the Y's and scouts are planning to do about children smoking. Ask how you can help in projects that may be underway or take part in planned projects.

Sometimes—because of the nature of most of us—we seek and take advice from persons other than the ones closest to us. So don't be surprised if your child does that. Such action is no reflection on you. Many teenagers don't take advice from their parents, regardless of how much they respect them.

Encourage your child—before he decides to smoke or not smoke—to talk with his doctor, his minister, his teacher, the public health nurse, or anyone else he respects and who will give him sound advice.


Many teenagers are choosing not to smoke. Your child may be one of them. In that case, you won't have much of a job on your hands. But some teenagers have not been convinced. If your child happens to be one of them, it's likely that your job won't be so easy.

One or two or three sessions of talk may not do it.

You have to go slowly. Hunt up your facts. Sit down with your child a great many times and talk them over. Listen. Respect feelings and beliefs. Be patient when your son or daughter doesn't want to listen or may not agree with you.

If you try to ram your "truths" down his throat or beat him over the head with your "facts", you just might find yourself up against a wall of resistance that may amaze you.

Attacking the smoking problem with our children is not the kind of job that some of us would seek. In fact, too many of us—for our own personal reasons—put it off. We would like to keep away from it—like to duck and run.

This is especially true when we ourselves are smokers.

But we can't afford to. Just as we can't afford to delay action at any time a danger threatens our children.

These books will give you the medical facts.

SMOKING, HEALTH, AND YOU. Facts for teenagers. Children's Bureau, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Pub. No. 424. For sale by Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 20402. pp. 22. 1964. Price 15 cents.

This pamphlet covers the most important points in SMOKING AND HEALTH, the report on smoking to the Surgeon General. It is easy to read and although addressed to teenagers, can be of great help to parents in getting the medical facts to children.

THE CONSUMERS UNION REPORT ON SMOKING AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST. By Ruth and Edward Brecher, Arthur Herzog, Walter Goodman, Gerald Walker, and the editors of Consumer Reports. Consumers Union, Mount Vernon, N.Y. 222 pp. 1963. Price $1.50.

Attractively written for the layman, this easily read study was issued before the report on smoking to the Surgeon General. It reaches the same conclusions, for the most part, and should be of great help to parents as they gather their facts for discussions with their children.

SMOKING AND HEALTH. Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service. Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Pub. No. 1103. For sale by Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 20402. 387 pp. 1964. Price $1.25.

This long and thorough report on smoking and health gives the best arguments against smoking cigarettes that have been gathered under one cover to date. It is written in technical language.


children's bureau

publication no. 423—1964

Welfare Administration
Children's Bureau

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).