Why Do Kids Start Smoking?

“Each day approximately 1,110 kids become regular, daily smokers and between one third and one half will eventually die as a result of their addiction,” according to the American Lung Association. Lovely topic, I know!

Jodi McAree, MSSW, a Kansas City social worker who counsels adolescents, says, “Research shows children with low self-esteem are more likely to experiment with tobacco than those with a healthy self-esteem.” And why else do they start?

  • To appear “cool” or older.
  • Rebellion/demonstrating independence. 
  • Parents are smokers. 
  • Peer pressure.
  • For weight loss.

Open Parent & Child Talks:

Start anti-smoking talks when your child reaches 5 or 6 years of age and continue throughout high school. Surprisingly, many kids start smoking at age 11, and some are addicted by age 14. McAree suggests, “If children can learn to assert themselves at a young age, it is much easier for them to say no when they are older.” Most youth aren't able to see how their current actions affect their future health. Focus on the immediate problems: it’s expensive, hard to breathe, makes for stinky breath and clothes and yellows teeth.

Peer Pressure:

Find out whether your children have friends who smoke. Offer ways to respond to peer pressure with clear, concise answers: (i.e. I don’t like the way it stains my teeth, makes my hair/clothes smell bad, it will affect my running time, rather spend my money on clothes or music.)
If you discover your child has started smoking, your first reaction may be to order her to quit immediately. It's important to realize that teen smokers become addicted to nicotine quickly, which can make quitting very difficult. Try not to judge, but offer information and resources for helping them quit, while focusing on their health. “And don’t forget to reinforce the decision to quit with praise, and stress the natural rewards, such as improved appearance,” says McAree.


  • Someone can get addicted to nicotine within days of first using it.
  • Nicotine can be as addictive as cocaine or heroin. 
  • Nicotine affects mood as well as the heart, lungs, stomach and nervous system.
  • Studies indicate that young smokers are more likely to experiment with marijuana, cocaine, heroin or other illicit drugs. (www.KidsHealth.org)

Call 1.800.QUIT.NOW for coaching, information and referral to local resources. Resources also available at www.SmokeFree.gov.

Stacey Hatton is a pediatric nurse and freelance writer.

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