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Below, Dr. Michael H. Popkin answers your questions to help you get the conversation started - and keep the conversation going.

Click here to ask Dr. Popkin your question.

Do I have to be an expert on the health issues related to smoking?

No, chances are your child already is getting a lot of useful information about that in school. You may even ask what he’s learned about the health risks associated with
smoking. Ask him to share information from textbooks or other print material. Go to the library together or search the Internet. Make it a project you do together and you will strengthen your relationship while you strengthen your argument.

What if I’m a smoker?

Even if you smoke, you can still have a positive impact on your child’s decision to not smoke. One of the most important things you can do is tell your child you don’t want her to smoke. Second, don’t smoke around your child. If you want to quit, tell her, but you must follow through and at least make the effort to quit. You should stress that while you smoke, it is not appropriate for kids to do so. Tell her that you know smoking is very easy to start, but it’s also very hard to stop, so don’t get started.

How old should my kids be when I start talking to them about not smoking?

We know that by the time they reach middle school, the vast majority of children believe that smoking is dangerous to one’s health. Despite this knowledge, a high
percentage of teens still become smokers. To stop youth smoking before it starts, many experts recommend opening the discussion with your child as early as age 8. Point out the health risks, but don’t dwell on them. Most kids are more concerned about what happens now than what may or may not happen in 20–30 years.

What if my child is already smoking?

It is upsetting for any parent to learn that their child is doing something that is harmful to them. It is also normal to feel angry that your child has broken an agreement
with you. Tell him that you want him to stop right now and express that if he continues to do so, there will be consequences, like grounding or loss of other privileges. When you follow through with the consequences, stay calm and remind your child that you love him and want to see him grow up happy and healthy.

How can I help my child to realize the consequences of smoking?

Many children are not motivated by what may or may not happen in 30 years, so it’s important that you make your argument as graphic as possible. This will ensure that it is emotionally powerful. Find photos, videos, or anything else that will give your health message some “yuck” effect. You can also increase the impact of your message by having it delivered by a victim of a tobacco-related disease. If your child is into sports, point out that professional athletes don’t smoke, as it strains their heart and lungs, and reduces their performance and endurance.

What if my child’s friends smoke?

Teens who have friends who smoke are nine times as likely to smoke as those who hang out with kids that don’t smoke. Parents are never going to seem as cool to their kids as the cool kids do. However, what we tell our kids about smoking can make an important difference. Along with talking about the consequences of smoking, help your child by practicing peer pressure refusal lines. Ask them what they can say when offered cigarettes so that they will not feel foolish doing so. Helping them to come up with clever refusal lines can give them the confidence to say no when the time comes.

How often should I bring up not smoking with my child?

As often as possible. It’s best to make your point of view clear before your child has the opportunity to try smoking. Because kids are being offered cigarettes at younger and younger ages, you can begin talking with them about smoking as early as age 8. Keep in mind that almost 90 percent of smokers began before the age of 18. In fact, the middle school years of 12 to 14 are the prime time for experimentation and to begin getting hooked. The teen years provide a critical opportunity for parents to prevent any experimentation with tobacco or to intercede in the addiction process before it becomes full-blown.

How can I avoid sounding like I’m lecturing my child?

Begin by asking good questions. Then listen to the answers actively and with empathy. Do not become judgmental or critical of their ideas, but look for common
ground where you can agree. Let your kids know how bad you would feel if they became smokers, and give some good concrete reasons for wanting them to abstain. Be sure to talk from the place in your heart that loves them and cares about their health and happiness. If they ever feel that you are just trying to run their lives, there is a good chance your words will backfire, making smoking more appealing.

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Q: What are some effective ways you've heard of parents connecting with their kids about smoking?