Do as I Say, Not as I Do: How Parents’ Smoking Influences Their Children
It comes as no surprise that parents are the single biggest influence in a child’s life, even more than their peers or school. Sons and daughters look to the adults who raise them to be role models for the choices they make. One crucial area is health.
A report in Science Daily found a strong correlation between parents’ smoking habits and their children’s decisions about whether to smoke.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health worked with 35,000 parent/adolescent pairs and examined their responses regarding the smoking habits and nicotine dependence of parents and teens. Overall, teens had three times the odds of smoking at least one cigarette, and nearly twice the odds of nicotine dependence, if a parent was dependent on nicotine.
Monkey See Monkey Do
- If a child sees a parent smoking, he or she may unconsciously play down the risk factor, since it normalizes the behavior.
- Observing a parent using cigarettes as a coping skill to minimize stress teaches children that they too can self-medicate with nicotine.
- As it has been demonstrated that there is a family predisposition to drug and alcohol addiction, so it is with nicotine addiction.
- Watching a parent engaging in smoking as a social activity makes it more appealing.
- If parents smoke, it is that much more difficult for them to have any credibility when they tell their children to refrain.
Multigenerational Family Use Perpetuates the Pattern
Dr. John Spangler, MD, a professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said the study validates the belief that there is a family history of tobacco use among many smokers. “We know that people are more likely to uses substances like alcohol based on family history and the same holds true for tobacco use,” he said. “This may point to a genetic predisposition to metabolize nicotine or dopamine differently.”
Dangers of Secondhand Smoke
Even if the cigarette is not held in the child or teen’s hand, youngsters remain at high risk for smoking-related illness. A therapist with clients who smoke has asked if they smoke around their children. Some don’t, saying they smoke outside or in the car with the windows open. She has reminded them that even if they are not near their children, the smoke remains on their clothes and hair, and that the child breathes it in when the parent hugs their little one. The impact of secondhand smoke is well-documented.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spells it out like this:
- Studies show that older children whose parents smoke get sick more often. Their lungs are smaller than children who do not breathe secondhand smoke, and they are more prone to bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Wheezing and coughing are more common in children who breathe secondhand smoke.
- Secondhand smoke can trigger an asthma attack in a child. Children with asthma who are around secondhand smoke have more severe and frequent asthma attacks. A severe asthma attack can put a child’s life in danger.
- Children whose parents smoke around them get more ear infections. They also have fluid in their ears more often and have more operations to put in ear tubes for drainage.
Another concern surrounds the impact of smoking on pets. Would anyone deliberately poison children or animals? No, but by smoking in their presence they’re doing just that.
A study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, showed that exposure to secondhand smoke, such as a person can get by riding in an enclosed car while someone else smokes, has a direct, measurable impact on the brain — and the effect is similar to what happens in the brain of the person doing the smoking. In fact, exposure to this secondhand smoke evokes cravings among smokers.
“These results show that even limited secondhand smoke exposure delivers enough nicotine to the brain to alter its function,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow. “Chronic or severe exposure could result in even higher brain nicotine levels, which may explain why secondhand smoke exposure increases vulnerability to nicotine addiction.”
The surgeon general’s report determined in 2006 that secondhand smoke:
- Causes heart disease
- Causes lung cancer in nonsmoking adults
- Results in serious health conditions in children, including sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infections and more severe asthma
- Causes almost 50,000 deaths per year
Reason Enough to Quit?
As if those weren’t reasons enough to kick the habit, how about the financial cost?
A pack of cigarettes ranges from $4.96 a pack in Kentucky to $14.50 a pack in New York. For a pack-a-day smoker, the habit costs $1,810.40 to $5,292.50 annually. Imagine how that money could be used to enhance the quality of life of smokers — not to mention those around them.
That aforementioned therapist has inquired of her clients, “Would you walk into a convenience store and use your hard-earned money to buy the most potent poison the clerk has?” Naturally, they say, “Of course not.” I reply, “What do you think you are doing when you buy a pack of cigarettes?”
As with any addiction, the person whose smoking contributes to making his or her own life and those around them unmanageable is faced with a choice — to continue a costly, deadly habit that may cause their children to also be enslaved, or to allow themselves and their children to breathe freely.
Smoking cessation programs are available from these agencies:
Remember that smoking is an option. Breathing isn’t.