It’s time to talk: The secret weapon to reduce teen smoking

Despite all measures, there may come a situation wherein you must face the truth: Your teen is a tobacco user. Your instincts will tell you to take extreme action out of worry or fear, but you must take a step back.

By Malavika Kaura Saxena,

We have always been proud to say that India has one of the world’s highest youth populations. This means that we have a large number of people who can build the country and bring in a future of success. However, while we flaunt our youth population, the burden of enabling, empowering and protecting them falls on our shoulders.

Available data says that almost 25% of Indian adolescents currently use or have used some form of tobacco. This is a massive number and not one that we should take lightly at all. There have been initiatives to prevent adolescents from getting access to tobacco or tobacco products in the past. However, access is only one part of the problem.

Habits like tobacco use among teenagers are instilled through a mix of social cues, pop culture hooks, and peer groups. As they grow from childhood to adulthood, they build their personalities and circles away from home and family. To combat the attractiveness of habits like smoking or using tobacco, we, as adults, need to create a safe space for our teens and not feel threatened or punished.

In my opinion, after years of working with de-addiction, there are some key things we need to do to reduce the number of addicted youths:

Stop making tobacco consumption a taboo topic.

Yes, tobacco consumption is a terrible habit. Still, we tend to usher our kids away from a smoker on the road or hide them from view. We are partly responsible for building the aura of elusive ‘cool’ that comes with a smoker. When popular culture shows smokers, tobacco chewers, and many different substances today, we must talk about it openly. Talk about why it is wrong, how it hurts you, how it affects the world you value, and instantly, you take the mystery away.

Respect their peer groups

Teenagers are at a stage where they are trying to find their tribes. Sometimes, the people they gravitate towards may not have the best of habits. But often, parents forget that these are people with whom their kids feel at home. This is a delicate situation. Obviously, you want to keep your children safe from dangerous habits and conditions. But they mustn’t feel alienated because of it.

Be clear about your stance.

If someone in your immediate circles is a tobacco user, you must be clear with your teen about your stance in the context of the habit. Teenagers are almost adults and very quick to spot hypocrisy. Treat them as adults, give them the information and support they need. This will help them make an informed decision and make it clear that you are with them always.

Be aware and open to de-addiction

Despite all measures, there may come a situation wherein you must face the truth: Your teen is a tobacco user. Your instincts will tell you to take extreme action out of worry or fear, but you must take a step back. Most addicts are aware that they are not doing the right thing, so support and enablement is the best course of action. Tell your teen that it’s okay; they can overcome this habit and suggest different ways to take the steps necessary to do so.

Most addictions start young and in dark corners. The more open and supportive you are as an adult, the less allure there is to ‘experiment’. We must realize that a hundred cues make substance use seem normal, and we must combat those with conversations that highlight why it is wrong.

Our youth is our point of pride, and it should be our responsibility to nurture and empower them. Let’s reduce that 25% number together by changing our approach to the conversation around tobacco usage. After all, you can win a lot more hearts with honey than with vinegar!

(The author is Director –Domestic Marketing, Rusan Pharma Ltd. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult experts and medical professionals before starting any therapy or medication. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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