Despite a decrease in the overall number of smokers, every day more than 6,000 adolescents under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette, and more than 3,000 become daily smokers. Clearly, the need for education and for the implementation of programs to help smokers quit is still great.
The Great American Smokeout is held annually on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. It is a perfect opportunity for parents to begin a dialogue about the dangers of smoking.
Some starting points might be:
Offer age-appropriate messages to help children of all ages understand the health risks.
Emphasize the drawbacks of the habit that they may be experiencing themselves-the cost of cigarettes, the smell, the stained fingernails, even the way they have less energy or cough when they play their favorite sports.
Encourage your teen to seek the advice of a physician, who can lend authoritative support to parents and psychological support to teens trying to quit. In addition, physicians can provide prescription or non-prescription medications to help suppress the nicotine cravings.
Remember, most of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal occur during the first three months of quitting. Support from parents, friends and others is critical.
Begin early. Start talking to children as young as kindergarten and elementary school age about smokings drawbacks.
(Dr. Robert Pendergrast is director of Adolescent Medicine for MCG Health System, which is composed of MCG Health, Inc. and the clinical services offered by the faculty of the Medical College of Georgia and the members of the Physicians Practice Group.)
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