Preventing Tobacco Use in Youth

Most people start to use tobacco as youth before they can understand the nature of addiction and the long-term health risks. The majority of people who use tobacco wish they never started and would like to quit. It is important to talk to youth about tobacco addiction and the harms of even casual tobacco use. In Toronto in 2011, 8.9 per cent of youth grades 7 to 12 and 26 per cent of young adults aged 18 to 24 reported being smokers. Toronto Public Health works with Youth on tobacco related issues, to find out more go to Youth Health Action Network.

Most youth begin to use tobacco before they’re able to understand the nature of addiction or the long-term health risks. Youth may also be encouraged to smoke because:

  • Tobacco products are packaged and flavoured to look and smell like candy e.g., chew, cigarillos.
  • Tobacco products are advertised as being a “natural” or “safe” form of tobacco. Health Canada warns that e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products such as chew and snuff are not safe and may pose significant health risks.
  • Smoking is frequently seen in youth-rated movies and television shows

Open, honest and respectful communication is essential.

When talking with children and youth:

  • Focus discussions around the dangers and immediate consequences of smoking. Help them to understand that smoking is expensive and causes bad breath, smelly hair and yellow fingers and teeth.
  • Equip them with the skills, motivation, and information they need to:
    • Make their own decisions.
    • Avoid being negatively influenced by their peers.
  • Talk about the different tactics used by corporations. Explain how corporations often entice youth to buy tobacco products and/or engage in behaviours that might be harmful to their health.

Teachers play an important role in preventing youth from starting to use tobacco. Talking to youth about smoking and incorporating information about tobacco use into the curriculum can make a difference.

According to the 2009 Ontario Student Drug Use and Survey, smoking significantly increases with grade level with 1 per cent reporting tobacco use in grade 7 to 20 per cent in grade 12. With approximately 119, 600 students in grades 7 – 12 across Ontario reporting that they smoked in the last year, it is important to begin prevention efforts in early grade levels. A good way to introduce tobacco-free living to elementary students is to read books about it in the classroom such as Smoking and Quitting: Clean Air for All (for grades 1-5) from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Elementary schools can also incorporate tobacco-free messages in P.A. announcements and newsletter inserts.

Toronto Public Health works with schools and community agencies to develop their own tobacco use prevention programs. Public Health Nurses help to reinforce knowledge gained from curriculum resources and help to promote tobacco-free living messages to youth.

If you would like a Public Health Nurse to provide support, resources and activities call 416-338-7600 or e-mail publichealth@toronto.ca.