WASHINGTON – Teen smoking had been declining for decades, but now progress is stalling.
The latest Surgeon General’s report on preventing tobacco use among youth and young adults estimates that more than 600,000 middle school students and 3 million high school students smoke cigarettes.
For health care professionals, the numbers are reason for concern. They predict almost 30 percent of youth smokers will ultimately die from a smoking-related disease.
Dr. Toni Thompson-Chittams of TLC Pediatrics in Bowie, Md., says anti-smoking campaigns have had some effect but “teen smoking is still a serious problem.”
Thompson-Chittams urges parents to talk to their kids about the negative effects of smoking.
“Often we believe that our teens are certainly not listening. But in fact they are,” says Thompson-Chittams.
And while it’s important to bring up the long-term consequences of smoking, Thompson-Chittams suggests focusing on the here and now. For example, many teens are concerned about their appearance.
“So once you start talking about skin issues and bad breath, and poor sports performance, there certainly is some hesitation,” she says.
Studies over the years have shown that teen smokers are more likely to have panic attacks, anxiety disorders and depression. They are at increased risk of illnesses such as colds and bronchitis, as well.
And Thompson-Chittams says there is one other important fact that all parents must remember: lead by example.
“If you are a smoker then, more than likely, your kids will smoke. So consider quitting,” she says.