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Parents Can Teach Anti-Smoking Message

CancerWise - November 2007

By Asma Siddiqi

Educating children about the dangers of smoking at an early age is an important step in helping reduce tobacco-related risks, and parents can play a key role, health education experts say.

About 60% of smokers begin before the age of 14, says Cassandra Harris, health education manager in M. D. Anderson's Public Education Office. Her staff developed Too Cool To Smoke, a program that uses puppets to educate young children about the health effects of tobacco. Dialogue for the puppet shows was created around the "Up in Smoke" script developed by The Kids on the Block, Inc.

“Research shows it’s extremely important to start educating children early," Harris says. "We can tell kids are absorbing information at a young age. We even get fan mail from kids, which tells us they were paying attention during the shows.”

Parents, she says, are in the perfect position to educate their children as well.

How early should you start?

It may seem premature to tell kids about smoking in pre-school but it will be a good foundation. At this age, parents can tell their children they disapprove of smoking and that it can make you sick.

Although they may not know how smoking can affect them, children will understand that it’s not allowed.

When are they old enough to understand?

Parents can explain what tobacco is to their kindergarten-age children. They should understand that although some people use it, tobacco is harmful.

Children begin receiving school health education classes after kindergarten. This is when parents can identify possible risks associated with tobacco use. Describing the link between tobacco and cancer, asthma and other diseases is important at this time.

Some helpful websites

Sources to help parents talk to their kids include:

Quitting Smoking – The American Lung Association offers information about the benefits of smoking cessation and tips on quitting.

Child and Teen Tobacco Use - The American Cancer Society reports facts about children and tobacco use, along with information on different forms of tobacco and suggestions for parents on what they can do to help kids quit smoking or prevent kids from beginning to smoke.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center