Q. My sons are eight and ten but they have a 16-year-old cousin who is already addicted to smoking and smokes in front of my young boys, so I dread them taking his lead. How can I get them into good habits now? Helen, west London
Research suggests that people who start smoking in their teens and continue for two decades or more will die 20-25 years earlier than those who never light up. But the good news is that according to the Office of National Statistics, the proportion of children who have ever smoked is declining. In 2012, 23 per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds (25 per cent in 2011) had smoked at least once, the lowest proportion since the survey began in 1982 when 53 per cent had smoked.
Unsurprisingly, the prevalence of regular smoking increases with age. Less than 0.5 per cent of 11 year olds have smoked, but it rises to 10 per cent of 15 year olds. The decline in smoking is marked among older pupils however. The proportion of 14 year olds smoking regularly fell from 13 per cent in 2006 to five per cent in 2012; 10 per cent of 15 year olds smoked regularly in 2012, compared with 20 per cent in 2006.
The danger of smoking should be covered in PSHE lessons at your sons’ school, but back it up at home. Don’t be dramatic. Ask open questions – what do they know about smoking and what do they think? Explain how quickly you can get addicted to cigarettes and point out the downsides like the smell and the cost.
Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology and Director of Tobacco Studies, University College London advises parents to ‘help them develop a strong sense of themselves as self-confident, happy young people who value themselves and their health. If they do try cigarettes as adolescents, don’t despair. Keep the communication channels open whatever happens.’ And don’t be afraid to sit down with your nephew either and be clear about your house rules – no smoking in front of your sons or in your home.
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