Is Your Teen Using Tobacco or E-cigarettes? How to Handle It as a Parent


I remember one evening after dinner when I was still in high school, my parents offered a challenge to my two siblings and me. They said that if we did not smoke until our (respective) 18th birthdays, we would each get $100. At that time Michael Jackson had his original nose, one-hundred dollars would be about eight hundred dollars today, and both my parents were smoking, as in cigarettes in hand, during the conversation.

Needless to say, all three of us became smokers. I wish I could say I haven’t smoked since cell phones were the size of a loaf of French bread, but I kept with the habit a bit longer, even though I did eventually kick the habit.

Fortunately, since my teens years there are significantly fewer young people smoking and being exposed to second hand smoke. But teen smoking, regardless of the numbers, is still serious, according to The Partnership at Drug Free.Org.

Every day, almost 3,900 children under 18 years of age try their first cigarette, and more than 950 of them will become new, regular daily smokers. People who begin smoking at an early age are more likely to develop a severe addiction to nicotine than those who start at a later age. Sadly, half of them will ultimately die from their habit.

So why do kids start smoking in the first place? When it comes to cigarettes, not much has changed since Rebel without a Cause first charged across the big screen. Here are some of the most common reasons:

  • Peer pressure.
  • They see smoking as a way of rebelling and showing independence.
  • They think that everyone else is smoking, and that they should, too.
  • Their parents are smokers.

Similar concerns are related to e-cigarettes, which have yet to be regulated by the FDA and are in fact legal for teens of any age to purchase. “The increased use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling,” said CDC director Tom Frieden. “Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes.”

On the parent coaching team, we work with concerned parents on how to deal with their teenager who is smoking. For teens under the age of 18, we treat it as we would any illegal activity. It is unacceptable.

That said, there are a couple factors to consider. If one or both of the parents are smoking, it becomes a more difficult task to address. James Lehman refers to this dilemma as “Do, Not Say.” Meaning if you want to your child to stop yelling, don’t convey that message while yelling; if you expect  respectful behavior from your child, allow your child to see you treat others with respect; and if you want your child to stop smoking, don’t say it with a cigarette in your hand. In fact, consider stopping smoking not only for yourself, but as modeling what you want to see in your child.

Ultimately, though, you have the right to set limits and expectations in your home whether you smoke or not. Try to avoid an emotional or moral response. Also, try avoiding threats and ultimatums,  because you will end up with a power struggle on your hands. Focus instead on the behavior.

We also recommend that parents not allow smoking in their home or their property. If you find your child’s cigarettes, throw them away. Limit your teen’s ability to buying cigarettes by not giving them cash to purchase clothes, lunches, etc.  Although e-cigarettes are not yet illegal to minors, you still have the right to implement house rules regarding your teen using them.

OK, those were the “easy” things. Here’s something else to think about. Try to find out why your child is smoking.  Ask them to reflect on it. Ask your teen to write out what happened and how they started. What was the motivation? You want to know if your teen is experimenting, engaging in risky or rebellious behavior or addicted to nicotine. Your teen may need your help in kicking the habit.


Kari Wagner-Peck has a master’s degree in social work. Her career path includes: clinical work with survivors of abuse, advocacy and public education. She finds parenting to be a funny, trying and rewarding adventure. She believes disability is a natural part of life not to be feared or pitied but accepted. She and her husband and son live with two rescue dogs. She has been with Empowering Parents 1-on-1 Coaching since 2013. You can follow her at and on Twitter @atypicalson.

Advertisement for Empowering Parents Total Transformation Online Package
Like What You're Reading?
Sign up for our newsletter and get immediate access to a FREE eBook, 5 Ways to Fix Disrespectful Behavior Now
We will not share your information with anyone. Terms of Use