Tobacco Use: An Introduction

It can be difficult talking to your kids about risk behaviors like tobacco use, and it’s easy to feel as if your words don’t make a difference. But, in fact, research shows that you are a very influential factor in your children's decision-making.1 Positive identification with parents is associated with decreased cigarette use.8 That's why it's so important to start talking about tobacco use while your kids are young, to tailor your approach to their stage of development, and to continue the conversation throughout their adolescence.
While it can be tough to start the conversation, open communication is the key to making sure your children make smart choices about tobacco use and other risk behaviors. By starting early, you can help lay the foundation that will help your child develop the resistance skills needed for staying tobacco-free.

Did You Know?

  • Smoking is the leading cause of premature, preventable death and disease in the United States.2
  • Each year, tobacco use results in more deaths than AIDS, unintentional injuries, suicide, homicide, and alcohol and drug abuse combined. 73
  • Twenty percent of high school students report having smoked a cigarette in the last month.4
  • In 2008, approximately 1,000 young people (under the age of 18) became daily smokers every day.5
  • Involvement in structured activities, parental boundary setting, adult mentoring, perceived school connectedness, religious involvement, and other protective factors lower the chance that youth will engage in health-compromising behavior, including smoking.6


1. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Malignant Neglect: Substance Abuse and America’s Schools (2001).

2. National Center for Health Statistics, Health, United States, 2009: with a Special Feature on Medical Technology (Hyattsville, MD, 2010).

3. Ali Mokhad and others, “Actual Causes of Death in the United States 2000,” JAMA 291 no. 10 (2004): 1238-1245.

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results (2010).

5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-36, HHS Publication No. SMA 09-4434) (Rockville, MD: 2009).

6. Keith Zullig and others, “Testing the Feasibility of Developmental Asset Measures on College Students to Guide Health Promotion Efforts, Assessment 16, no. 1 (2009): 31-42.

7. Heron, M.P., Hoyert, D.L., Murphy, S.L., Xu, J.Q., Kochomek, K.D., & Tejada-Vera, B. (2009). Deaths: Final Data for 2006. National Vital Statistics Reports, 57 (14). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

8. Leslie Morrison Gutman,, Jacquelynne S. Eccles, Stephen Peck & Oksana Malanchuk. The Influence of Family Relations on Trajectories of Cigarette and Alcohol Use From Early to Late Adolescence (2010). Journal of Adolescence article in press.