Prevent Kids’ Exposure to Tobacco


Each year, smoking accounts for 430,000 premature deaths in the U.S., including the deaths of 11,400 Tennessee citizens. Unless smoking rates decline, about 125,000 Tennesseans currently under the age of 18 will ultimately die from smoking.

As we begin the new year, one way families can get off to a healthier start is to focus on reducing kids’ exposure to tobacco. It’s important that they are protected from the dangers of secondhand and thirdhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke is smoke from burning tobacco products or smoke breathed out by a smoker. Millions of children are breathing in secondhand smoke in their own homes and communities. It can be especially harmful to children’s health because their lungs are still developing.

Thirdhand smoke refers to the chemicals from cigarette smoke—even long after smoking has stopped—that cling to soft surfaces and can be found on things that you touch, such as carpets, clothing and toys. Thirdhand smoke is dangerous because you are exposed to the same chemicals found in tobacco smoke that are known to cause cancer.

Protect Your Children’s Health

Here are steps you can take to prevent your child from being exposed to the dangers of secondhand and thirdhand smoke:

  • Do not allow anyone to smoke near your child. Ask smokers to wash their hands and change into smoke-free clothing before holding your baby.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke in your home or car.
  • Use a smoke-free daycare center and babysitters who are nonsmokers.
  • Do not take your child into indoor public places that allow smoking.
  • Try to keep your child out of homes of smokers.

Talk to Your Kids 

Help your children understand that tobacco use is very harmful and can make them feel sick. Consider telling them why you don't use tobacco or why you intend to quit. Here are some suggestions from the American Cancer Society on how you can talk to your children about avoiding tobacco:

  • Try not to think of this talk as one big lecture. Instead, begin talking with them when they are 5 or 6 years old and continue the conversation through high school.
  • Tell kids openly that you disapprove of smoking because it will harm their health. A Dartmouth Medical School study found that kids whose parents took a firm stand were less than half as likely to become established smokers.
  • Listen even as you set limits. Taking time to answer your kids' questions shows that you respect their learning process.
  • Remind them that smoking stinks. Cigarettes give you bad breath, stain your teeth and make your clothes smell awful.
  • If your child has already started smoking, avoid threats and ultimatums. Focus on providing loving guidance to help your son or daughter quit for good.

How to Quit Smoking

Try writing down the reasons you want to quit tobacco. Be specific. Write things like, "For my family's health," "No more stinky clothes," "Breathing easier," and "To be a role model for my kids."

Let all your friends and family know you plan to quit using tobacco. Decide on a date when you will quit, then tell everyone. This way, you won't have to keep explaining yourself over and over. You'll also have a built-in support network and be able to prepare for the transition.

Make an appointment with your doctor to talk about quitting tobacco. Your doctor can make helpful recommendations, suggest products and provide prescription medication to help you quit.

Check out a strategy to quit smoking under “Breathe Easier” in the Small Starts for Families from Healthier Tennessee.

Develop Healthy Habits

For more tips to start healthy habits for eating, physical activity, sleeping and dental care, visit Small Starts and Small Starts for Families.

Additional Resources

The Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine is a toll-free telephone service that provides personalized support for Tennesseans who want to quit smoking or chewing tobacco. Call the Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine—800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669)—and make a quit plan.

Read about why it’s important not to smoke during pregnancy.

Electronic cigarettes have been rapidly gaining popularity nationwide among adults and youth. E-cigarettes and vaping pose significant health concerns for adults and children alike. Among the hazards are burns that can occur from using them.