Smoking and your child or teen
Smoking kills more than 37,000 Canadians each year—six times more than car accidents, suicides, homicides and AIDS combined. Every year, thousands of teenagers smoke their first cigarette. In fact, close to 90% of adult smokers smoked their first cigarette before the age of 18.
Why are cigarettes so dangerous?
Cigarettes contain nicotine – one of the most addictive substances in the world. Other products with nicotine include: chewing tobacco, “snuff”, cigars, cigarellos and some electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). Some newer kinds of smokeless tobacco even look like candy or breath-strips.
How do I know if my child or teen is likely to start smoking?
Some children or teens are more at risk of becoming regular smokers. Here are some factors that could make them more likely to start smoking:
- easy access to cigarettes/tobacco (such as from friends, family members, a store or an illegal supplier)
- a parent who smokes
- peer pressure
- low family income
- emotional, physical or sexual abuse in the home
- parents who are separated or divorced
- living with someone who abuses drugs or alcohol, or has been to prison
- doing poorly in school
- depression and mental health problems, or living with someone with mental illness
- exposure to tobacco advertising
- being an LGBTQ or Aboriginal/Indigenous youth
How addictive is nicotine?
Children or teenagers can start craving nicotine just 3 months after their first cigarette.
Teens can experience withdrawal symptoms (physical or emotional symptoms that happen when a person who is addicted to a substance stops using it) after smoking less than 100 cigarettes (4-5 packs).
How does nicotine affect my child’s brain?
Nicotine can have long-term and harmful effects on a child or teenager’s brain. Regular use can lead to addiction and future substance use, as well as mood disorders in adulthood.
Should I worry if my child or teen uses smokeless tobacco or e-cigarettes?
Yes. Smokeless tobacco is often seen as being “safer” or less addictive than cigarettes but some of these products actually contain more nicotine. This increases the chances of addiction and nicotine poisoning. As well:
- Smokeless tobaccos can cause bad breath, teeth problems, and increase the risk of ear, nose and throat cancers.
- The second-hand “smoke” from e-cigarettes may contain harmful toxins that can worsen existing breathing troubles like asthma.
- E-cigarettes can lead to the use of tobacco products.
How can I encourage my child or teen not to smoke?
- Limit or eliminate exposure to cigarettes and tobacco products at home.
- Show interest in your child’s health.
- Challenge attitudes and beliefs about smoking and make sure children understand the risks of smoking or tobacco use.
When and how should I talk to my child or teen about smoking?
It’s never too early or too late to talk to your child or teen about the risks of smoking. Many children start smoking as early as Grade 6. Use points that are appropriate to your child’s age.
What to focus on
Information to share
Age 5 to 11
Negative effects and consequences of smoking
- Smoking causes bad breath and yellow teeth.
- Smoking makes it harder to keep up during sports.
- Your body can get addicted even after smoking just a few times and it will be hard to stop.
- Cigarettes are expensive. You could spend your money on more fun things.
- Tobacco companies trick kids into thinking smoking is cool and safe.
- Smoking can cause cancer and heart attacks.
- It’s against the law for kids to buy cigarettes.
Immediate effects of smoking
- Smoking makes you smell and gives you bad breath.
- Smoking makes your teeth yellow and gives you early wrinkles.
- You won’t be able to run as quickly or do as well at sports if you smoke.
- You will have hacking coughs, get more colds and pneumonia.
- You will get addicted very quickly.
- Cigarettes are expensive—one pack a day for a year could buy a used car ($1,500 to $3,500).
Long-term health consequences of smoking
- Smokers are more likely to have fertility problems than nonsmokers.
- Other forms of tobacco may not be safer than cigarettes.
- Smoking exposes the people you love to all the health risks of second-hand smoke.
My child is already smoking. How can I convince him to stop?
Consult the list below, or talk to your child’s health care provider. They can offer suggestions and resources to help.
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Adolescent Health Committee
Last Updated: August 2016