8 answers to kids' toughest smoking questions

August 2012

kids smoking tobaccoKids are smart. You can’t just tell them to say no to tobacco and assume they won’t ask why. In fact, kids may even ask questions you’re not prepared to answer.

Luckily, Eric Van Aart and Joanne Spinoza — the lead puppets from our Too Cool to Smoke puppet show — have you covered. Eric and Joanne visit Houston-area schools and community groups to teach kids about the dangers of smoking and tobacco, and they’ve learned a lot about talking with kids.

Below they share questions kids frequently ask along with the answers.

1. Is it bad if someone around you is smoking?
Yes. Secondhand smoke can cause ear infections. It can make your asthma worse if you already have it, and can hurt parts of your body just like it would the person who smokes.

2. How do cigarettes trick your brain?
There’s a part of your brain that tells you when something feels good, like when you’re eating good food, doing well in sports, or feeling happy or relaxed. Nicotine grabs on to that part of your brain and makes you think that you like it. It does this while harmful chemicals destroy other parts of your body!

3. How do the tar and smoke get stuck in your lungs?
When a cigarette is burning, the chemicals start to melt together to form tar. Tar is very sticky, and it coats the lungs like syrup. And, that can make it harder to breathe.

kids smoking tobacco4. How long does it take for your lungs to get better after you quit smoking?
Three months after quitting, smokers’ lungs work up to 300 times better!  Their blood flows better and walking becomes easier. By nine months, the lungs are better at cleaning themselves and fighting infections.  After only one year, a former smoker is half as likely to get a heart attack as a current smoker.

5. Is it hard to quit smoking?
Nicotine tricks your brain into thinking you need to smoke and want to smoke. Smoking is a habit, just like anything else you do all the time. And, that means it can be difficult to make a change and quit the habit. When some people first quit smoking, they can get very cranky. Some may have trouble sleeping for a while or eat more than usual. These things can be uncomfortable, but they don’t last. You can help by reminding the smoker that it’s always better to quit than to keep smoking.

6. Does smoking cause cancer?
Yes, many kinds. The tar and nicotine damage every part of your body. If these body parts don’t work the way they’re supposed to, they can cause other diseases, too. If a person suffers from an illness, using tobacco can only make it worse.

7. Does smoking kill you? 
It can. Tobacco use, especially cigarette smoking, is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarette smoking causes most lung cancer deaths.

8. Someone in my family smokes a lot. Should I tell them to stop?
Remember, people who smoke aren’t bad. They just made a bad decision, and it may be hard for them to quit. You can tell them what you’ve learned about smoking and how it can hurt them and you. You can even tell them that quitting makes flowers, perfume and food smell better after only one day. It makes yummy foods taste better, too.

Related links
Get the Facts: How to Talk to Kids about Tobacco and Alcohol (MD Anderson)