Prevention of Underage Tobacco Use


As strange as this may sound, tobacco addiction is a Pediatric disease. We don’t think of it this way, because people tend to die from tobacco-related illnesses as adults. However, 85% of new tobacco user start between the ages of 12 and 17… well before it is legal to use tobacco.


The tobacco industry needs to recruit new teenagers each year to replace their dying adult customers. As a result, tobacco is heavily marketed to children and teens. Most recently, the industry has used tactics that imply that the newer products are less harmful.


What can you do as a parent?

Tobacco is a deadly addiction, and needs to be discussed this way. Tobacco is actually the deadliest of all addictions, accounting for 444,000 preventable deaths in the United States every year. That number is high because tobacco is thought of as a normal part of adult life. Never, ever take the attitude that you are dealing with “just tobacco”, or count your blessings because your kids are not doing “something worse”. Especially because…


Point out that only a small percentage of Americans still use tobacco. Only 19% of Floridians use tobacco, and only 17% of Martin County residents. Yet, most teenagers assume that a majority of adults use tobacco. Make sure your children and teens understand that 83% of Martin County residents choose NOT to use tobacco.


Explain that tobacco is a gateway drug. Tobacco use leads to the use of other substances, including alcohol, marijuana, narcotics, and other illegal drugs. If you are dealing with a tobacco use issue with your teens, confront it head on. Taking a strong stand on tobacco use may prevent your teens from escalating their drug use.


Look around in the stores where your teens shop… the tobacco industry is clearly targeting your children. Tobacco marketers go out of their way to reach kids, and that battle is being waged in the very stores that your kids visit every day. The advertisements and packaging are designed to capture the attention of children and teenagers, NOT adults. So, unless you force yourself to look around, you may not know what tobacco products are even available to your kids. Many of the packages are hard to identify as tobacco.

Point out real smokers, and discuss how the effects of tobacco. Tobacco advertising shows young, attractive people with none of the illnesses or cosmetic effects caused by tobacco. This includes images of sexy, young actors and actresses in youth-rated movies. To counteract that, we need compare those media images with the real smokers that they see in their daily life, pointing out the short-term risks (smelly hair and clothes, stained teeth, cough) and long-term risks (wrinkled skin, missing teeth).



For more information on tobacco prevention and cessation programs available in Florida and Martin County, please visit the following resources:


Quit Doc Research and Education Foundation

Tobacco Free Partnership of Martin County

Martin Memorial Health Systems, Quit to Get Fit

Everglades Area Health Education Centers, Quit Smoking Now

Florida Quitline

Tobacco Free Florida

Florida Department of Health, Division of Health Access and Tobacco