What's the best way to keep your kids from trying cigarettes?

A significant number of children try cigarettes in middle school.
A significant number of children try cigarettes in middle school.

You're well-aware of the serious health risks associated with cigarette smoking, including lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, disability and premature death. You've also heard that smoking can be a steppingstone to the use of other drugs, such as marijuana or cocaine [source: Partnership for a Tobacco-Free Maine]. That's why you definitely don't want your kids to smoke, and you really don't think they will.

While most parents share this optimism, contrary to their expectations, more than 2.8 million kids under the age of 18 are current tobacco users, and 400,000 youth become daily smokers each year in the United States [source: Riordan]. Most try their first cigarette between the ages of 11 and 13, although many start earlier. In a U.S. "Monitoring the Future" survey, 8.8 percent of eighth-grade students reported having first smoked by the fifth grade [source: Riordan].

Smoking is highly addictive, even more so than marijuana, alcohol or cocaine. Kids can become seriously addicted just days after first experimenting with tobacco products. And the earlier kids are when they first try cigarettes, the higher their chances of ultimately becoming a regular smoker, and the less likely they are to quit [source: Riordan].

So, how do you keep your kids from trying cigarettes? Whether you know it or not, as a parent, you are one of the greatest influences in your kids' lives. The simple actions you take, such as sitting in a nonsmoking section of a restaurant, and not smoking yourself, have an impact. The negative attitude you have about smoking and the comments you make about cigarettes influence your kids. And the opinions you voice about tobacco companies to your friends and family also are important in molding your kids' perspective. But, the best way to keep your kids from trying cigarettes is to stay connected. Click ahead to learn how.

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