Most people understand that smoking is an unhealthy habit – especially for kids. But many myths about smoking are confusing to kids, leaving them to experiment with smoking and ultimately becoming addicted to the destructive habit before they realize it.
Is smoking bad for a 10-year-old kid? Without a doubt, smoking is bad for your health at any age. It can be substantially worse for a child who starts smoking at such a young age. Even smoking on occasion or experimenting with smoking at a young age can lead to an addiction that leads into adulthood, destroying multiple body systems along the way.
This article delves into what we know about smoking based on years of research and dispels the myths about smoking that often leads to confusion for kids and adults alike. Before researching this information carefully, I believed some of these myths myself. Clarity and knowledge are both key in exploring the health concerns surrounding smoking, which can sometimes seem appealing to kids who are still forming opinions and developing their own habits.
Why Smoking is Not a Good Idea
Consider the following reasons why smoking is not a good idea:
- Nicotine is the primary chemical found in cigarettes, and can cause addiction within even days of inhaling it. (Nicotine in cigarettes can be as addicting as heroin or cocaine.)
- Smoking cigarettes causes bodily harm and lead to: stroke, heart disease, emphysema, and various types of cancer, including lung, stomach, bladder and throat cancer.
- People who smoke have increased chances of suffering from infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Smoking damages airways and irritates the throat, resulting in “smoker’s cough.”
- Smoking is a cause of gum disease.
- It damages your sense of taste.
- Nicotine is addictive and causes your brain’s pathways to adjust to accommodate the large levels of nicotine from cigarettes. Quitting causes withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, irritability, anxiousness, and cravings for more nicotine.
- Smoking causes damage to the cochlea (an organ in the inner ear) and may cause mild to moderate loss of hearing.
- Smoking increases your risk of developing eyesight issues – including cataracts and macular degeneration (which can both lead to blindness). It also detrimentally affects night vision.
- Smokers are more prone to mouth sores and ulcers, more prone to get cavities, and at greater risk of having mouth or throat cancer.
- Smoking causes dryness of skin, leading to premature wrinkles and stretch marks.
- Smoking causes skin to look more dull and gray.
- Smoking raises your blood pressure and puts extra strain on your heart. These can lead to heart attacks or stroke.
- Smoking makes your blood “sticky.” This, in turn, creates more work for your heart since the blood becomes more sluggish to move throughout your body. It also damages the delicate lining of blood vessels.
- Smoking contributes to muscle deterioration, thinning of bone tissue, and loss of bone density.
Smoking Considerations to Discuss with Your Child
Along with the “bad idea” considerations listed above, kids may be more receptive to other messages to discourage them from smoking. Here are a few additional considerations to discuss with your child that may have a more direct and immediate impact:
- Smoking causes stained yellow teeth. Looks are important to most kids, so use this to your advantage here.
- Smoking causes bad breath. No one wants bad breath, even kids.
- It makes clothes smelly. Okay, so some kids (especially around 10 years old) are smelly anyway and may not care if they’re a little more smelly. But focus the conversation on the idea that smelling nice is important, if only so that they’re not offending their friends’ senses.
- It can be difficult for smokers to keep up with non-smokers in physical activities and sports. If your child enjoys sports, this is a key discussion point. Their performance will suffer as a result of smoking.
- It contributes to more colds, coughs, and being sick in general (leading to missing out on fun activities). Being healthy leads to more freedom to enjoy life.
- Smoking is an expensive habit, and that money could be directed to other more appealing things. Many kids don’t have any idea how expensive cigarettes are. Be honest about it, and multiply that out over the course of weeks and months so that your child gets an idea of how expensive this habit becomes over time.
Discuss why your child may be interested in smoking in the first place. The reasons vary, and knowing why can help you navigate discussions that steer your child away from being attracted to the idea. Some common attractors are: they’re just curious, they want try something “forbidden” or “dangerous,” they think it looks “cool,” they think it is more “adult,” they may think it could help them lose weight, or their friends smoke and they want to feel included.
Listen to your child and show that you value their thoughts and opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. If they mention friends who smoke, offer some ways they can decline with confidence if asked to partake in smoking.
Rather than just a simple “no,” you might suggest telling their friend they don’t want their clothes to smell bad, or have bad breath, or yellow teeth. Or that they don’t like the way it looks. Talk through different options to see what sounds most appealing to your child so that you can offer a bit of “ammunition” against peer pressure.
Common Myths about Smoking
What people believe about smoking is not always true. Here are some common myths you or your child may believe, along with the truth.
- Occasional smoking isn’t harmful. There is no safe level of inhalation of tobacco smoke. Even smoking one cigarette causes harmful bodily damage.
- “Light” or other types of seemingly milder cigarettes are not as harmful. Because labeling a cigarette as “light” or “mild” or anything related and it was deemed too misleading, it is now unlawful to label cigarettes in such a way. Your body is exposed to just as much tar from light cigarettes as from regular ones, regardless of the filter or wrapper.
- It’s too late for quitting smoking to be helpful. No matter how long you may have smoked, quitting at any time improves your health and quality of life. Immediately after quitting, your blood pressure lessens and lung quality and functioning improve.
- E-cigarettes are a healthy alternative. While we don’t yet know the long-term effects of vaping, the U.S. surgeon general found that the aerosol in e-cigarettes is linked to damaging chemicals (including nicotine, which is the addictive chemical), flavoring, heavy metals, and ultrafine particles you inhale into your lungs. Researchers have found toxins (including formaldehyde, acetic acid, and acetaldehyde) and nicotine in the aerosol’s vapor.
- If smoking is my only bad habit, it’s not so bad. Eating healthy and exercising cannot undo or offset the damage of smoking. Smoking is harmful to your health even if you have other healthy lifestyle habits.
- Nicotine gum and patches are as bad for me as smoking, so why use them? Nicotine itself is not proven to cause cancer, though the way nicotine is delivered determines how harmful it can be. Inhaling nicotine is scientifically proven to be harmful. And inhaling tobacco smoke exposes you to thousands of chemicals in addition to nicotine. Nicotine patches and gum help smokers to quit gradually in a less harmful way, as they can wean themselves off the most addicting chemical found in cigarettes, which is nicotine.
- Tobacco is a plant and therefore must be healthy. Natural does not equal healthy. Many harmful chemicals are found in tobacco, including cyanide, carbon monoxide and ammonia (all linked to cancer).
- Hand-rolled tobacco is healthier. The roll-ups actually expose smokers to thousands more damaging chemicals through their smoke (many of which are carcinogenic and poisonous).
Ways to Have a Positive Influence in Your Child’s Decision about Smoking
Millions of dollars have been spent over the years to market smoking as being attractive. For a parent, it can be challenging to negate those effects.
Just remember, as a parent, You have the greatest influence in your child’s life. You are your child’s most influential and consistent role model.
Your child may go through phases where your opinion may not be as strong as those of friends or film stars. But those are generally just that – phases, and they will pass. Talk about smoking throughout your child’s life – not just once, or only when you suspect s/he may have an interest in smoking. It should be a regular topic of conversation from year to year.
Your child’s likes and dislikes will change over time, and priorities will also change. What matters at age 6 or 8 or 10 may be vastly different at age 14 or 15. Start young and be brief, and as your child ages, you can provide more information to match their level of maturity.
Also, if you smoke yourself, recognize that what you do reflects as strongly as what you say. It’s never too late to quit smoking and reaping the benefits. And you’ll be able to be a better role model for your child, whose health is in your hands to a large extent.
Here are some tips to help you influence your child during conversation:
- When you notice a popular film star smoking in a movie or TV show, talk about it with your child. How does it make the character more or less appealing? Does your child view this person as a role model? If so, why? Ask your child to share his or her thoughts about the character smoking (along with other things you may have noticed so that conversation flows to be more of a well-rounded picture of a character and not just of a single behavior).
- If you have adult family members or friends who smoke, discuss that with your child, as well. Perhaps your smoker friend/family member is experiencing health issues or coughs a lot. Bring those things up in conversation, not in a way of judgement of others, but more along the lines of why you choose not to smoke (assuming that’s the case).
- Use hypothetical situations to stimulate conversation. You can start with questions about why do you think someone might choose to smoke? Or how do you think smoking affects someone’s life? Leading your child to think along a specific path helps for him or her to make up their own mind and come to their own conclusions, with you doing just a bit of steering with the follow-up questions you ask. It’s a far stronger case than simply preaching that smoking is bad. When you involve your child in thinking about repercussions (rather than quoting what they’ve heard), the impact and influence is stronger.
- When I was a kid in school, we were made to watch videos about drug use – and they worked wonders. These visual representations about drug use scared me to the point I would have never even entertained the idea of trying drugs. Try doing some research online to find videos about the effects of smoking. Then watch the videos with your child and talk about them together. Were they realistic? Why or why not? Were they scary? Why or why not? It’s another avenue to stimulate conversation about the detrimental effects of smoking, and what various body parts look like or how they function as a result.
Remember that when discussing smoking with your child, conversations should not focus on judgement or persecution. They should focus on education, understanding, and natural consequences for the greatest impact and influence.