The transition between childhood and teen years is an emancipation time suited for new experiences, among which smoking. The french newspaper La Croix focuses on the reasons behind the smoking experimentation for the youth and also gives some advice for helpless parents.
According to an OFDT report (French Observatory for Drugs and Addictions), a quarter of the young people smoke their first cigarettes when aged 13 and more than half of the teens (51,8%) have tried smoking before the age of 15. Since we know that the earlier the first cigarette is smoked in one’s life, the higher the risks of tobacco addiction, how should parents react to their child’s first cigarette?
Parents are most of the case helpless when facing their child’s tobacco experimentation. They are all the more uncomfortable when they, themselves are smokers, and need to explain the damaging effects of tobacco. They need to show pedagogy by blocking the positive image their child has built around cigarettes to make them face the risks of tobacco use. Indeed, smoking is generally associated by the young people to an autonomy gain and a possibility to commit the forbidden.
It’s hard for parents who smoke to advise their child not to follow their steps, since they fully know a child builds on its parents’ example. The main goal is to inform both on the addiction and on the health risks linked to tobacco products, and use existing prevention campaigns.
However, for Jean-Pierre Couteron, a psychiatrist who is President of the French non-profit organization Action Addiction, we must be realistic concerning the lack of long-term impact of prevention campaigns or of the implementation of neutral packaging with shocking images. In the best case scenario, teens don’t even pay attention to them and do not project themselves enough to fear the consequences. In the worst case scenario, the transgressive side of tobacco products will appeal to them.
Teens could be more sensitive to aesthetics arguments, such as bad breath, strong smell or yellowing teeth. The main goal is not actually to prevent the experimentation but to postpone as much as possible the age when the first cigarette is smoked to avoid the teen’s identity being built around this addiction.