Each year since 1977, on the third Thursday of November, smokers around the nation come together to take part in the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, taking place this year on November 18.

The Great American Smokeout challenges smokers to quit using tobacco products and provides them with resources and strategies to either quit using tobacco or to never start. Because tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the world, the Great American Smokeout remains an important event.

Tobacco is a hard habit to quit, so it is crucial to start talking to your kids now to prevent them from using tobacco products in the future. Finding the right time to begin the conversation may be difficult, but there are many things parents can do to help teach the dangers of smoking to children.

Don’t Wait to start Talking to Kids

It’s never too soon to start a conversation about tobacco with your kids. It’s recommended to first mention tobacco use to children when they’re about age 5 or 6, and continue the dialogue on a regular basis until your child is out of high school.This can be beneficial because many kids start using tobacco products by the age of 11, and even worse, many become addicted by the age of 14. By starting an open dialogue early and often, you can make a big impact on the decisions they make later in life.

Give Kids the Facts

Many kids start smoking because it seems like the cool thing to do, but are not aware of the harmful effects that come along with tobacco use. It is your job to point out the negative health effects to your children, which include bad breath, yellow teeth, smelly clothes, coughing, and decreased athletic performance, along with life-threatening illnesses.

It is no secret that smoking has serious long-term risks like cancer, but it is important to relay this message to your children. It is estimated that smoking causes 32% of all cancer deaths in the U.S., including 73% of lung cancer deaths in men and 76% of lung cancer deaths in women. If you know someone that has been affected with a tobacco-related illness, you should mention this to your child while having the conversation to give them a real example.

Discuss the Downsides of Vaping

Vaping is the latest smoking trend being used by kids, teens, and young adults. Vaping is marketed as a safe alternative to smoking, yet there is no evidence that vaping is any safer than smoking cigarettes and may, in fact, be just as dangerous.

The liquid used in vaping is not mere water. The ingredients in the liquid, which the e-cigarette device turns into vapor, can contain nicotine, heavy metals, and cancer-causing chemicals. Nicotine, a highly addictive substance, is contained in both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes. Researchers worry that an addiction to nicotine through the use of vaping, can easily translate later to the same addiction being satiated by cigarettes.

The MD Anderson Center’s website lists the following risks:

  • Nicotine is addictive. In fact, it’s one of the most addictive substances available. An addiction to nicotine can lead e-cigarette users, especially kids, to quickly escalate to regular cigarettes. In speaking with the Anderson Center, Jason Robinson, Ph.D., said, “The fear is that these young people who would never have tried cigarettes are now getting dependent on nicotine at the most impressionable time.”
  • Nicotine is harmful. This is particularly true for young, developing brains. Nicotine use can stunt an adolescent’s ability to learn and affect their behavior. It lowers their ability to resist addiction, leading to more nicotine use. Nicotine also worsens conditions like depression and anxiety.
    If you have asthma, e-cigarette aerosol can irritate your throat and lungs.
  • The liquids and devices can be dangerous. E-cigarettes have been known to explode and the fluid is poisonous if it comes into contact with eyes or skin, or if you accidentally or deliberately drink it.

Dr. Robinson says the reasons for avoiding Juul and other e-cigarettes are compelling. “If you’re not already dependent on nicotine, why take the risk of becoming addicted and damaging your health?” he says. “If you are dependent on nicotine, you are much better off using safe cessation tools that are proven to be effective to curb your cravings and get off tobacco products.”

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), “E-cigarettes’ biggest threat to public health may be this: The increasing popularity of vaping may ‘re-normalize’ smoking, which has declined for years. Reversing the hard-won gains in the global effort to curb smoking would be catastrophic. Smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death and is responsible for 480,000 American lives lost each year.”

Set Household Rules

Be clear with your child that there will be consequences if they are found smoking or using tobacco products. Taking away privileges, like using their electronics or going to friends’ houses, can be a way to show them how serious of an issue this is.

While it’s important to have rules, when your child asks about tobacco, the most important thing to keep in mind is to be open and honest about the topic. You are the greatest influence in your child’s life, so what your child learns from you can point them in the right direction to permanently avoid smoking.