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Honor The Great American Smokeout by talking to your kids about smoking

20 Nov 2014 – 05:23 PM EST

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The American Cancer Society sets aside the third Thursday of November each year as the Great American Smokeout. This year’s event is November 20. The goal is to encourage smokers to make a plan to quit smoking. Another option is to quit just for the day. Any type of participation puts smokers on the road to better health.

Tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, yet one in five adults still smoke. According to the American Lung Association, 85% of smokers started before they turned 21. Here are some ways to introduce the topic to your kids, so they don’t become one of the statistics.

Start young.

Talk to toddlers and preschoolers about the dangers of smoking. Explain that it isn’t healthy and is something they should stay away from cigarettes. Tell them to leave cigarette butts on the ground if they see them outside.

Inform with kindness.

Someone your child loves probably smokes. Be careful not to portray smoking in a way that will make them think smokers are bad people. Focus on healthy choices for our bodies. “Eating cookies for lunch isn’t a healthy choice for our body and neither is smoking.” Making it about the choice instead of the person reduces the chance of your child publicly treating smokers like the villain in a Disney movie.

Give the facts.

Don’t just tell them smoking is “yucky” or dangerous. Explain why in age appropriate terms. According to the CDC, smoking causes damage to almost every organ. It contributes to diseases that often lead to death. It impacts daily life by causing the smoker to stink, have trouble breathing and have discolored teeth.

Make a plan.

At some point, your child will probably be offered a cigarette. Role play now so they are comfortable saying no. A simple, “No, thanks, I don’t smoke,” is a great response, but give your kids permission to use you as an excuse if they are really feeling pressured. “My mom would kill me if she found out I was smoking. It’s not worth the risk of being grounded forever.”

Keep the lines of communication open.

Bring up the subject again from time to time. Ask open ended questions when you see a teenager smoking in a movie or on TV like, “What do you think about that?” and “Why do you think she’s smoking?” Make sure your children know you are there to talk if they have questions or concerns. Let your child know you will love her no matter what. Sometimes kids make choices we don’t approve of, but being afraid to talk to you about it will up the likelihood they’ll continue down an unhealthy path.

Finally, set a good example. If you smoke, take part in the Great American Smokeout this year. Show your kids you value your health and want them to do the same.

Have you talked to your kids about smoking?