As study shows thousands of kids have nicotine addictions – what to do if your child is one of them

15th Aug 19 | Lifestyle

Keep calm, and keep talking.

Young woman enjoying a cigarette

Shocking new research from Churchill Home Insurance reveals that NHS Trusts are treating thousands of children – some even younger than 12 – for addiction to smoking.

More than 6,000 nicotine replacement treatments were handed out to under-18s in a three year period, and in the last year alone 1,710 minors, a quarter of them under 15, were treated in just one third of NHS Trusts. The national figure was certainly higher.

So, if you find out your kid(s) are smoking, what should you do?

Stop smoking

Non-smokers can skip ahead now, but the number one thing you can do for your kids is to stop your own smoking now.

Studies have shown parental smoking to be one of the largest determining factors in whether or not a child starts smoking, and further suggest that as soon as a parent gives up, that factor starts to fade.

Mother smoking in front of child
(iStock/PA)

Given the widely-understood dangers of secondhand smoking you shouldn’t be smoking around your kids anyway, but just having a smoker in the house helps to normalise it for children.

Balance boundaries and support

Finding cigarettes in your kid’s trouser pockets can be quite a shock, but charging in all guns blazing will simply make your child defensive, and harsh punishments might just make smoking more alluring.

Instead, have a considered, non-confrontational discussion about why they started smoking, and how you can help them stop. Help your teen stay active – exercise can reduce cravings, as well as distracting them – and encourage rather than condemn if they slip up while trying to quit.

On the other hand, you’re entitled to lay down boundaries, and ‘no cigarettes in the house’ is a common go-to for parents. Counter classic lines like, ‘I can stop whenever I want’ by pointing out that young people can develop addictive symptoms from very small numbers of cigarettes, and that small signs of addiction strongly predict continued use.

Make your points firmly and confidently, but make sure your child never feels isolated.

Make them want to stop

Strong-arming teenagers is often futile, and in the end, only they can take responsibility for their behaviour.

Try appealing to your child with arguments that meet them where they live. If they think smoking makes them look grown-up and cool, point out it can give them bad breath and foul-smelling clothes. If they’re smoking because of peer pressure, point out that smoking has been repeatedly proven to make you less attractive to potential partners.

Quitting smoking
(iStock/PA)

If there’s one thing teenagers are usually short on, it’s money, so find ways of demonstrating how expensive and extravagant a habit smoking is. There’s a variety of services that can track how much money not smoking is saving you hour by hour (try apps like Quit Tracker or the Smokefree cost calculator), and even you will be surprised how quickly the numbers stack up.

To you, smoking might seem an unfathomable habit, but try to understand what your child sees in it, and use arguments that undermine those attractions. Obviously you should explain the enormous health risks too, but in 2019, it’s pretty likely they already know.

Consider e-cigarettes

Vaping, as it is widely known, may not feel like the smoke-free future you envisage for your child, but for already-addicted youngsters, it’s a creditable halfway house.

The NHS says e-cigarettes carry “a small fraction of the risk of cigarettes”, as they cut out most of the toxic chemicals that make normal cigarettes so harmful. The vapour they produce contains nicotine – satisfying the smoker’s physical urge – but does not contain tar or carbon monoxide.

Earlier this year a major clinical trial found that e-cigarettes, when combined with face-to-face support, were twice as likely to succeed compared to other nicotine replacement services like patches or gum.

Remain patient

Telling a child to quit smoking is not like telling them to clean their room – it’s a process. Remain calm – you should get through to them eventually.

© Press Association 2019

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