November 18, 2004

Each day, nearly 4,500 kids between the ages of 12 and 17 light up and inhale clouds of nicotine, beginning the life-threatening habit of smoking, and many parents are to blame.

Most people know that smoking around children can be damaging to their health, but it can also cause them to pick up the habit; children of parents who smoke are 50 percent more likely to follow their example.

"If your parents are smoking around you when you are a child, you start to become familiar with the smell and addicted to nicotine. You can definitely pick up the chemicals that are in smoke and the familiarity of it," said Erica Velasco, community health promotions specialist with the Maricopa County tobacco use prevention program.

Children are also more susceptible to the health risks associated with smoking and secondhand smoke because their bodies and lungs are still developing.

"It’s bad to smoke around anybody in general, but a child can develop asthma from being exposed to secondhand smoke and can develop lung cancer eventually, if exposed to it for a long period of time," Velasco said.

Despite efforts to increase education about the dangers of cigarette use, the number of young people picking up the habit is still too high, she said.

"The rates are increasing in certain age groups," Velasco said. "It definitely hasn’t lowered."

Although much of the research focuses on smokers over the age of 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 23 percent of America’s high school students are smokers. Peer pressure, accessibility of tobacco products and the perception that it is acceptable to lead young people to smoke, which is why parents’ influence is critical.

There are steps that parents can take to prevent their kids from smoking, like talking about the dangers when the kids are still young. Reports indicate students are introduced to smoking by peers as early as middle school, so having conversations with kids as young as 5 or 6 may be helpful.

The Tobacco Use Prevention Program also urges parents not to smoke or allow cigarettes in the home. Setting a good example by not smoking is the best way to protect your kids.

Tips for raising a tobacco-free child

• Don’t smoke and don’t allow smoking in your home.

• Make your rules about tobacco clear.

• Discuss the 4,000 chemicals and 40 carcinogens in tobacco.

• Visit

Great American Smokeout

Today is the 28th annual Great American Smokeout. The American Cancer Society urges smokers to quit today, to improve their health and the health of their families. Here are some tips:

• Set a date and stick to it. Today is as good a day as any.

• Use aids, like the nicotine patch, gum or lozenge, to help you quit.

• Use a support network of family and friends.

• Find ways to deal with cravings, such as hobbies or exercise.

• Use the four D’s: Deep breaths, drink a lot of water, do something else, delay reaching for a cigarette.

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