Teen smoking: How to help your teen quit

Want to stop teen smoking? Follow this no-nonsense approach, from setting a good example to making a plan and celebrating success.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you find your teen smoking, take it seriously. Stopping teen smoking in its tracks is the best way to promote a lifetime of good health.

Set an example

As a parent, you’re a powerful influence in your teen’s life. If you smoke, your teen might interpret your actions as an endorsement for the behavior. Ask your doctor about stop-smoking products and resources to help you stop smoking. In the meantime, don’t smoke in front of your teen.

Start talking

Tell your teen how much you want him or her to stop smoking. But keep in mind that commands, threats and ultimatums aren’t likely to work. Instead of getting angry, ask your teen what made him or her start smoking. Perhaps your teen is trying to fit in at school or feel grown-up. Once you understand why your teen is smoking, you’ll be better equipped to address the problem — as well as help your teen stop smoking.

Encourage your teen to share his or her concerns

Rather than lecturing your teen on the dangers of smoking, ask what your teen considers the negative aspects of smoking. Offer your own list and appeal to your teen’s vanity. Explain that smoking:

  • Gives you bad breath.
  • Makes your clothes and hair smell.
  • Turns your teeth and fingers yellow.
  • Harms lung function and athletic performance.

Smoking is also expensive. Ask your teen to calculate the weekly, monthly or yearly cost of smoking or vaping every day. Compare the cost of smoking with that of smartphones, clothes or other items your teen considers important.

Discourage electronic cigarettes

You might have heard of using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as a way to quit smoking. Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid (usually but not always containing nicotine), turning it into a vapor that can be inhaled. Use of e-cigarettes is also known as vaping.

Studies to test whether e-cigarettes can help people stop using tobacco have had inconsistent results. At best, e-cigarettes are no more effective than nicotine replacement medications in helping people quit. Because of the unresolved safety concerns and because the research on e-cigarettes as a stop-smoking aid is inconclusive, Mayo Clinic does not recommend e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking.

In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that youths shouldn’t use any e-cigarette (vaping) products.

Help your teen make a plan

While many teens who smoke think they can stop anytime, research shows this isn’t usually true. Teens can become addicted after smoking as few as five packs of cigarettes.

When you talk to your teen about stopping smoking, ask if any of his or her friends have tried to stop smoking. Consider why they were — or weren’t — successful. Ask your teen which stop-smoking strategies he or she thinks might work best. Offer your own suggestions as well:

  • Know your reasons. Ask your teen to think about why he or she wants to stop smoking. The list can help your teen stay motivated when temptation arises.
  • Set a quit date. Help your teen choose a date to stop smoking.
  • Avoid temptation. Encourage your teen to avoid people, places and activities that he or she links with smoking.
  • Be prepared for cravings. Remind your teen that if he or she can hold out long enough — usually just a few minutes — the nicotine craving will pass. Suggest taking a few deep breaths or taking a walk. Offer sugarless gum, hard candy, celery or carrot sticks to keep his or her mouth busy.
  • Consider stop-smoking products. Although nicotine replacement products — such as nicotine gums, patches, inhalers or nasal sprays — weren’t designed for teens, they might be helpful in some cases. Ask your teen’s doctor about the options.
  • Seek support. A tobacco-cessation specialist can give your teen the tools and support he or she needs to stop smoking. Some local organizations offer stop-smoking groups for teens. Web-based programs can support your teen whenever he or she needs it.

If your teen slips, remain supportive. Congratulate your teen on the progress he or she has made, and encourage your teen not to give up. Help your teen identify what went wrong and what to do differently next time.

Above all, celebrate your teen’s success. You might offer a favorite meal for a smoke-free day, a new shirt for a smoke-free week or a party with nonsmoking friends for a smoke-free month. Rewards and positive reinforcement can help your teen maintain the motivation to stop smoking for good.

Oct. 22, 2020

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