When it comes to your child’s oral health, good habits are essential. Likewise, bad habits can harm their smile and general health. We are going to tackle the tough topic of encouraging teens to abstain from harmful habits like smoking, vaping, and underage drinking.
Teens today are still smoking even though it is as dangerous as ever, and most smokers begin using tobacco earlier in life. According to the Surgeon General, 5.6 million Americans younger than 18 will die early from smoking-related diseases. Teens who vape inhale as much nicotine as smokers (according to a 2019 study in the Journal of Pediatrics).
Teens today are exposed to:
- Cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos
- E-cigarettes (vaping)
- Hookah (water pipe)
- Smokeless tobacco (snuff, chew and dissolvable)
Not Your Parents’ Tobacco
Manufacturers of these products offer teen-friendly flavors to grab their interest and sweeten the deal. If your child is trying to fit in with their peers, they are facing a challenging road ahead. Parents have seen success with quit smoking cessation programs for teens. It is never too early to talk to your children about smoking and vaping (as young as kindergarten) and keep reinforcing that as they grow. Cigarettes are just one form of these addictive habits, thanks to nicotine addiction.
Vaping is not as innocuous as manufacturers would have you believe. According to the Surgeon General, teens are susceptible to having greater risks than older adults face with vaping. Teens younger than 25 are at greater risk of brain damage if they are vaping, and they are at greater risk of succumbing to nicotine addiction from it. Vaping is also considered a gateway to other harmful habits like cigarettes.
Talk to your teen about what they might say if one of their friends offers them one of these products. Having a response already in mind can help them say no. It can also be helpful for adults to set an example by not using these harmful items in front of them and making your home a smoke-free environment. It means asking adult friends and family members not to smoke in your home or vehicle as well.
What Is In an E-Cigarette?
Vaping means inhaling dangerous substances that can lead to serious and permanent medical issues. The following is in a typical e-cigarette:
- Cancer-causing chemicals
- Flavors like diacetyl (linked to popcorn lung disease)
- Highly addictive nicotine
- Nickel, tin and lead
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) damaging the liver, kidneys and nervous system
Along with smoking and vaping, your teen is likely to be exposed to underage drinking. Again, start teaching your child about the dangers of drinking. Talk to them early about the risks and emphasize making good decisions as they grow. Alcohol can be especially tempting if your child does not feel like they fit in or just want to please their friends. Alcohol is also a way that teens use as a coping mechanism from stresses inherent in school. Speak to them often about the dangers of alcohol consumption:
- Alcohol-related deaths when driving and swimming
- Early sexual activity, such as unprotected sex
- Problems in school (both academically and behavior)
- Developing alcohol dependence
- Harmed in a violent crime like assault or robbery
While their peers might try to convince them that drinking alcohol will make them feel happy, remind them that it is a depressant and can leave them sad or angry. If alcoholism runs in the family, let them know it puts them at greater risk as well. When your teen is pressured to participate in drinking, remind them that they can just say, “No thanks,” or ask for something else to drink instead.
Supporting Your Teen
Informing your child about the dangers of these addictive habits means having a good relationship where they can come to you with problems. Know where they are when they are not at home, and make sure they know the rules and what they will face if they break them. If your child is misusing any of these harmful substances, you can enlist the help of their family doctor or a counselor so they can make good choices. In addition to teaching your child how to care for their teeth every day and having regular dental cleanings and exams, teach your child healthy habits overall as they grow!