Cutting Through the Smoke:
A Guide to Talking to Your Child about Tobacco

In Manitoba schools there are way more non-smokers than smokers, however, every year, thousands of youth try smoking. This is concerning because cigarettes are highly addictive and as many as 80% of people who try smoking get hooked. Nicotine is the main chemical in tobacco products that causes addiction. Youth are at risk of nicotine addiction because their brains are not yet fully developed.

As a parent, you want your child to be healthy and happy. Helping your child to stay tobacco-free is an important step to good health. To do that, talk to your child about smoking—it gives them a better chance of staying tobacco-free.

But I smoke. Will my child listen to me?

Yes. It’s even more important for parents who smoke to talk with their child about tobacco. That’s because their child are more likely to start smoking. Your conversation can cut that risk in half. Tell them about your experience: how hard it is to quit, how it affects your health and how much you wish you’d never started. Sharing your honest feelings with your child can have a huge impact.

Talking to your children about tobacco can be difficult. To help you talk with your child about tobacco, the Manitoba Lung Association has created Cutting Through the Smoke – A Guide to Talking to Your Child about Tobacco. Click on the eight steps below for tips to having a successful conversation about tobacco.

Step 1: Think about what you want to say

Take it easy on the facts and figures. Put yourself in their shoes and pick a few points you think your child can relate to. For example, if you and your child see a young person smoking, ask “How much tobacco use do you see in your school? I wonder if it’s the same when I was your age?”

Step 2: Set aside the time

By scheduling a time to talk to your child, you’re letting them know they are important enough to have your undivided attention. Set a time limit, so they can relax and know they won’t be receiving an endless lecture. Make sure to eliminate distractions—turn off cell phones, video games and TVs. It’s also important to make sure you’re spending a quantity of time with your child during the week, doing chores, running errands, playing games. That way they know that you’re available for them.

Step 3: Ask what they think about tobacco use

Listen carefully to what they say; it will make them feel heard. And then talk to them about their beliefs. Use basic communication skills like repeating back to them what they say to show—and to make sure—you understand.

Step 4: Share your feelings about tobacco use

Be honest with your child, you don’t want them to use tobacco—or even to try it. And reinforce that you’re always there to listen. If one of their friends has offered them a cigarette, or if they’re feeling a lot of pressure, you want to know about it—because you care.

Step 5: Then share a few facts about tobacco use

Your child may think smoking won’t affect them until they are older, but don’t get sidetracked by the long-terms effects. Tell them what can happen right now! Immediate effects may include sore throats, more colds, a constant cough and an increased risk of asthma. These could lower their ability to participate in the sports they love.

Or appeal to their vanity. Smoking makes people unattractive; it makes their breath and clothes stink of cigarettes and nicotine stains their hair, fingernails and teeth.

Step 6: Find out what they know about e-cigarettes

I have heard “vaping” e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to cigarettes. Is it true?

The fact is, we don’t really know. Very little is known about the long-term effects of “vaping” or the effects of second-hand exposure. Studies show that these vapors can irritate airways and cause breathing issues in people with asthma. Health Canada advises against their use.

What’s in e-cigarettes?

The ingredients of e-cigarettes—a cartridge containing water, sweet flavouring, and sometimes nicotine in a base of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin—are unregulated, mostly untested and vary a great deal from brand to brand.

How does an e-cigarette work?

A typical e-cigarette has a battery and an atomizer that heats the liquid mixture to make vapour. This vapour is inhaled and rapidly enters the lungs. If an e-cigarette contains nicotine, there’s a risk of becoming addicted and this could lead your child to try cigarettes.

What else should I know?

About 16% of youth have tried e-cigarettes. This isn’t surprising considering e-cigarette companies are using some of the same advertising tricks used by big tobacco. These products are made to look attractive and tasty through the use of celebrity spokespersons and sweet flavours such as cherry, banana and vanilla.

Step 7: Talk to them about peer pressure

A school-mate may soon offer your child cigarettes and this kind of peer pressure is difficult to deal with—even for adults. So practice saying “No” to tobacco. It will help your child feel confident. There are many ways for them to say “No.” There isn’t one right answer.

Here are some ways to say “No”:

  • “I’m saving for a new video game.”
  • “There are some new clothes I want to buy.”
  • “People in my family have gotten cancer from smoking.”
  • “I won’t be able to make the team if I’m slowed down by smoking.”

And something that works a lot better than you might expect:

“No thanks.”

Step 8: Keep talking to them about smoking and tobacco

Every conversation you have about tobacco helps your child stay healthy and tobacco-free. It tells your child that you care, and it keeps the lines of communication open and could help your child let you know about other things in their lives.

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You now have the information. Why not start the tobacco talk tonight?

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Additional information

Smoking is expensive. How much does a pack of cigarettes costs?

Cigarettes are not cheap! Find out what they would spend in a month and make plans for what else they could do with the money they save.

What are flavoured tobacco products?

Stop your child from smoking, by discouraging the use of cigarillos and other flavoured tobacco. This tobacco tastes like strawberry, menthol and bubble gum. They are flavoured so that they taste better and are easier to consume. The packaging is flashy to attract a child and encourage them to experiment with tobacco. Tobacco products are addictive, they cause cancer and they kill.

Commercial tobacco is not in keeping with cultural and ceremonial use of Traditional Tobacco. Tell me the difference.

There is a big difference. Commercial tobacco is designed to be highly addictive and will make you sick. Traditional Tobacco has been used by most First Nations cultures for thousands of years. It was one of the four sacred medicines— Sacred Tobacco, Cedar, Sage and Sweetgrass—given to many Aboriginal Nations. First Nations have a unique relationship with tobacco. When Tobacco is burned the smoke rises, which provides a link with their Creator and to all the spirits beyond the sky. It is used in ceremonies, prayer, healing and is considered the most sacred of the medicines. Traditional Tobacco is used to communicate to the Spirit World and the Creator. It gives thanks in advance for guidance and advice.