Dear Dr. Levister: My father is a life long smoker. He was recently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. How can I influence my kids and other children not to take up this deadly habit? P.E.
Dear P.E.: Parents are the single most important influence on children's decision to smoke, drink or use drugs, yet many parents do not fully understand the extent of their influence. While smoking may not be your greatest concern, it's worth close attention because of its direct health dangers and also because it's associated with other risky behaviors.
According to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, the number of teenagers who smoke cigarettes is on the decline. However, more than one in four high school seniors reported smoking in the past 30 days. If you think your child is too young to try smoking, think again. More than 20 percent of high school students report that they smoked a cigarette before age 13. Elementary school is not too early to talk to your child about not smoking or even have conversations on an ongoing basis.
If your child is 25 and doesn't smoke, the discussions shouldn't stop - she's still at risk. If you prevent teens from smoking in high school, chances are greater that they won't smoke as adults. More than one-third of all kids who try smoking go on to smoke daily. And approximately 80 percent of adult smokers started before they turned 18.
Here are some sobering health consequences. More Americans die from cigarette- related illnesses than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide and illegal drugs combined. Almost 9 out of 10 lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking cigarettes. Among Blacks, the rate of death from smoking related diseases is nearly twice as high as whites. A person who smokes a pack or more of cigarettes each day lives, on average, seven years less than someone who never smoked. Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the country.
Talk to your child. Keep the communications lines open. Look for signs of peer pressure. State your own values clearly. Focus on short term consequences like bad breath, smelly clothes, yellow teeth, and poor performance in sports.
If you child already smokes, take a deep breath and find a good time and quiet place to talk. Encourage a two-way conversation, and resist the temptation to launch into a lecture or a debate over the pros and cons of smoking. The facts on smoking are very clear and deadly.. .so much so that Phillip Morris USA released a colorful and informative brochure on teen smoking called, "Raising Kids Who Don't Smoke." The brochure is created for parents just like you. While it's probably too late to save your father, his plight can help you save his children, grandchildren or someone else's family member.
Copies of the Phillip Morris USA Youth Smoking Prevention brochure are available at www. phillipmorrisusa.com/ysp or call, toll free, 866-HELP- TALK (866-435-7825.)
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