As a teacher, it’s easy enough for you to tell your students about the dangers of youth smoking. But is simply telling them enough? At an age when students are used to being told what to do and what not to do, it’s important to really dig deep into tobacco prevention, addressing both tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes and the immediate and long-term effects they can have on your students’ health. So let’s dig deeper. To get the conversation started, here is a list of 10 important questions you can ask your students about youth tobacco use.
1. Did you know that if someone around you is smoking, it can also affect your health?
It’s important for your students to understand the dangers of secondhand smoke, especially in middle school, where peer pressure is high. Bringing awareness to peers or family members who might be smoking around them will increase a student’s knowledge of the potential dangers for them. Kids need to know that even if they themselves don’t smoke, they can inhale harmful chemicals that can make them sick. (Note: Remember to structure this conversation so your students understand that smoking doesn’t mean a person is bad, and give them the advice they need to encourage their loved ones to try to quit.)
2. What do you know about e-cigarettes?
Here’s an important topic you can’t skip: According to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among middle school (6.7 percent) and high school (23.6 percent) students. While e-cigarettes don’t produce tobacco smoke, they do contain nicotine (which is addictive) and other chemicals. Talk to your students about these risks so that the next time they say no to a cigarette, they don’t opt for vaping instead simply because they think it’s a safer option.
3. What is your favorite sport or musical instrument to play?
The ugly truth is that smoking causes coughing, wheezing, headaches and shortness of breath. This is a major red flag for the kids in your class. It’s imperative that kids understand how smoking can reduce their ability to play the sports and perform other activities they love. Make a point to discuss this often-neglected topic, as many middle schoolers can relate.
4. Can you guess how long it takes to become addicted to cigarettes?
Answer: just a couple days. When students get to fifth grade, start introducing them to a conversation about addiction. Chances are they might know that drugs can be addictive but not truly understand what that means. When a student smokes a cigarette, his or her brain reacts to the nicotine and craves more-making this a habit that’s terribly hard to quit. They might also think that in order to get addicted to nicotine, they have to smoke cigarettes consistently for a long period of time. But that’s wrong. Kids can show signs of addiction within days of their first cigarette, according to the British Medical Association journal Tobacco Control.
5. How does it make you feel when you see someone young smoking?
This is an important question for bringing smoking into an everyday perspective for your students. Chances are they won’t want to admit to seeing one of their classmates smoking, but if you can get them to discuss the feelings they have when they see another young person smoking, it can bring attention to positive peer pressure. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one of the many reasons why young people decide not to use tobacco is because they have friends who are also tobacco free. Additionally, some of the factors that prompt adolescents to experiment with tobacco is having peers who use, overestimating the number of people who smoke and linking smoking with a “positive” social image.
6. Can you guess what the cost of smoking is?
While many underage smokers get their cigarettes from older friends, it’s important to touch on how much it actually costs to have this habit. The average cost of a pack of cigarettes in the United States is $5.51, with most states coming in between $6 and $8 for a pack. Try to pull out some comparisons your class can truly understand-perhaps one of the most popular movies playing in the theater right now, or a video game that is all the buzz. If you can compare the cost of those enjoyable events and items to that of cigarettes, it will help put it into perspective.
And don’t forget the most important cost of all-their health.
7. Can you name the short-term effects of smoking cigarettes?
Students sometimes have a hard time thinking long-term. (Who wants to think about their 30s when they are 15?) So talk about the ways smoking can affect them now. These effects include shortness of breath, coughing, tiring easily during physical activity, yellow teeth, bad breath and losing some of their ability to smell and taste.
8. Now, can you name the long-term effects of smoking?
While less relatable for young people, it’s still important to call attention to the long-term effects of smoking, like cancer. Even more powerful is that smoking decreases a person’s life expectancy by 10 to 12 years. If you’re talking to fifth, sixth or seventh graders, have them think about all the amazing and fun things they’ve done in their lives so far. Smoking threatens that same length of their life down the road.
9. Can you name five household chemicals found in a cigarette?
Tobacco, paper, nicotine-the three most common answers you will hear from your students. But, do they know cigarettes also contain tar, arsenic, cyanide, and many more chemicals, PLUS radioactive materials according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? And, while some of those products don’t mean anything to your students, remind them that smoking a cigarette could be akin to licking the inside of a nail polish remover cap or ingesting the material that is used to pave roads. Yuck!
10. If you’ve tried a cigarette or know someone who smokes, is it too late to quit?
No! It’s never too late to quit. While you can’t fully change the effects smoking has had on your body to this point, there are some benefits to quitting smoking. Remember though, the best choice is to never start! Here are some facts:
• Within 20 minutes of smoking the last cigarette, blood pressure drops to normal.
• After 8 hours, the carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to normal.
• After 24 hours, the chance of a heart attack decreases.
• After 1 year, the risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker.
• After 10 years, the lung cancer death rate decreases by almost half.
• After 15 years, the risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker.