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Parent Resources

It's just one cigarette

This fact sheet is part of the Teen talk: A survival guide for parents of teenagers series.

Ellie McCann, Extension Educator — Family Relations; Jodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Department of Family Social Science

Revised 2011. Reviewed April 2017 by Jodi Dworkin.

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Parents can greatly influence teens’ decision about whether or not to smoke, even when parents smoke. It may not seem like teens are listening, but parents’ voices are with them, even when parents are not.

What to Say to Your Teen

If parents do not talk with their teens and convey the clear message that they disapprove, tobacco use by teens is greater. When parents talk with their teens about the problems of tobacco use, teens are less likely to use tobacco.

The most effective conversations between parents and teens focus on issues that are important and relevant to the teen. Because youth often think tobacco use will not affect them until they are older, emphasize the immediate consequences of using cigarettes or e-cigarettes. The following are some suggestions to help guide your conversations.

Long-term Health Risks

Most teens have heard about tobacco’s health risks, but are usually not worried because the consequences seem so far into the future. Younger teens especially may be unable to understand or evaluate the long-term hazards such as lung cancer. They often feel that is something only older people should be worried about. Because e-cigarettes are still a relatively new product, and only recently regulated, there is no long term information on the health risks.

Facts to Consider

According to University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” study, one in ten 12th graders and one in twenty 10th graders report having used cigarettes in the past 30 days. In addition, 12.5% of 12th graders and 11% of 10th graders report using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and 9.5% of 12th graders and 4.9% of 10th graders report using flavored little cigars (cigarillos) in the past 30 days.

Teens are looking for ways to appear more adult and sophisticated. If they think using tobacco fits this image, teens may be more likely to smoke. Teens who are rebellious often believe they should be able to do whatever adults do. Since teens become addicted to nicotine quickly, they are often targeted by advertisements with false images that smoking is attractive.

Remember, the majority of adult smokers become addicted to tobacco as teens, so very few adults actually make the decision to start smoking. The time to intervene is now.

Setting Family Rules

If you don’t want your teen to use tobacco, don’t make it a choice. Teens are not allowed to decide if they want to attend school or if they want to drive a vehicle without a license. When tobacco use is presented as something youth can and should decide for themselves, it implies the decision is not important to parents.

Establish a clear and firm no-tobacco-use policy for your teen, and consequences if the rules are broken. Parents who tolerate, look the other way, or approve of underage tobacco use are more likely to have children who use tobacco.

When parents model the behaviors they hope their teen will adopt and share their attitudes and opinions about their teen using tobacco, they can reduce the chances their teen will smoke.

There is hope! Teen smoking has been steadily declining since the 1990s. The use of e-cigarettes (vaping), although teen use has surpassed teen use of cigarettes, started to decline for the first time in 2016.


Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (December 13, 2016). "Vaping, hookah use by US teens declines for first time." University of Michigan News Service: Ann Arbor, MI. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General—Executive Summary. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.

Related resources

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — This Campaign is a leading force in the fight to reduce tobacco use and its deadly toll in the United States and around the world.

Tobacco/NicotineNational Institute on Drug Abuse — Statistics, trends, videos, and publications about tobacco use.

Downloadable ResourcesPartnership for Drug-Free Kids™ — Guides, how-tos, and quizzes for parents to use with their teens.

Tobacco Prevention and ControlMinnesota Department of Health — Learn what Minnesota is doing to create a state where all people are free from the harms of tobacco.

Teens Health: E-Cigarettes — The Nemours Foundation — What they are and the dangers of “vaping.”

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