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Why is a program like this so important for parents?

Dr. Popkin: Parents of teens are often so worried about the risks of alcohol and other drugs that smoking sometimes flies under their radar. The ‘Talk Early, Talk Often’ program not only raises parental awareness about the risks of smoking, but gives concrete information about how parents can actively help their kids choose not to smoke.

Why do kids smoke?

Dr. Popkin: Kids smoke for a variety of reasons. Some do it to act grown-up, others smoke to rebel. I would say that the most common reason though is that kids who smoke often begin smoking to fit in with a peer group who thinks that smoking is cool. Of course, once kids get hooked, they smoke because they crave smoking and find it very difficult to stop.

Why is it necessary to take a different approach when speaking with younger kids versus older kids?

Dr. Popkin: Younger kids are more easily influenced by the health risks involved with smoking. As they get older, they already know about these risks, but enter a stage where they don’t think it will happen to them. During these teen and preteen years parents need to focus on issues that are more relevant to their kids, plus let them know what the consequences for smoking will be at home.

At what age should parents start to talk with their kids about smoking?

Dr. Popkin: It is almost never too early. Even with a young child, making comments like, “oh, yucky” when you and your child see someone smoking, you can begin to make an impact on their beliefs. We know that kids as young as 8 are being offered cigarettes, so by 7 or 8 you can be having short talks with your kids about the reasons you don’t want them to smoke.

What are some effective ways to talk with younger (ages 6-8) kids about smoking?

Dr. Popkin: Let them know that you love them and want them to grow up healthy and strong, and that smoking can hurt them and make them weaker. That’s why you don’t hear about good athletes smoking.