By Louis Neipris, M.D, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth
The sooner you help your teenager to quit, the better. Smoking in the teenage years causes dramatic and lifelong DNA damage in the lungs, according to one study. In fact, young smokers could be at a permanently higher risk of developing lung cancer, even if they quit later.
Damage to the body from smoking starts right away. Researchers found that the younger the age one starts to smoke, the more DNA damage occurs. Experts say that DNA changes in the lung tissue occur when chemicals in tobacco smoke fuse with genes in the DNA and cause mutations that can significantly increase the likelihood of cancer.
The American Cancer Society reports that students who smoke are also more likely to use other drugs, get in fights, carry weapons, attempt suicide and engage in high-risk sexual behaviors. These are some serious reasons to quit.
As a parent, you play a pivotal role in helping your teen to quit.
What you can do to help your teen quit:
- Set an example. If you smoke, quit. Kids learn by example. If you already quit, share your experiences with your child. Share with your son or daughter how you were able to quit, even though it was tough. Encourage them to do so in a non-threatening and supportive way.
- Be a detective. When talking to your child, find out why he or she is using tobacco. You may learn that your son is under pressure from peers to smoke or that your daughter smokes to relax. Learning about your child’s pressures to smoke is a good starting off point for coming up with healthy alternatives.
- Be there for your teen when he or she quits. Nicotine withdrawal strikes younger people, too. Share the five D’s to help your child through the early days of quitting:
- Delay. Teach that the craving goes away eventually.
- Deep breath. Tell your child to take a few calming deep breaths.
- Drink water. Advise your teen to drink water, which flushes out the nicotine (addictive chemical)
- Do something else. Help your teen find an activity he or she enjoys.
- Discuss. Have your teen talk about his or her thoughts and feelings.
- Wiencke JK, Kelsey KT. Teen smoking, field cancerization, and a “critical period” hypothesis for lung cancer susceptibility. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2002;110(6):555-558.
- American Cancer Society. Child and teen tobacco use. Accessed: 08/06/2009
- American Lung Association. Smoking and teens fact sheet. Accessed: 08/06/2009
- Wiencke JK, Thurston SW, Kelsey KT, et al. Early age at smoking initiation and tobacco carcinogen DNA damage in the lung. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 1999;91(7):614-619.