23

I'm 23 years old and I have a sister that is very soon turning 17. She lives with my parents and I live abroad for a couple of years now.

My mother noticed that my sister started smoking around 1 year ago and has been asking for my advice on how to convince my sister to quit smoking. We both had separate conversations with her on the topic and explained all the downsides of smoking. Didn't seem to work much.

The problem is that my sister smoking reached a peak point recently, when my sister went to a high school trip over the weekend with some of her classmates. The head teacher that was with them caught her smoking and forced my sister to call my mother and tell her that she has been caught smoking, while the teacher was next to her. So my mother called me and asked what could she do about it (she seemed very worried and out of ideas) when my sister gets back home. I suggested that she should try a different approach and ask my sister about how to deal with the situation. The idea was to see if she recognises that it's not the best thing that she can do.

What other concrete actions can I or my mother take towards convincing my sister to stop smoking? As I understand, my mother believes that my sister will listen more to me than to her (she's in that rebellious teenager period), so that's why she's asking for my help. Also, she believes the fact that I've just been a teenager should help.

A couple of points:

  • My mother didn't have to deal with this problem while raising me, since I never found smoking interesting and didn't even try it once.
  • My sister's high school is the same I went to. Roughly 70% of the teenagers smoke, unfortunately. It's being perceived as a cool thing to do. There's a lot of smoking in the school breaks.
  • In the country where she lives smoking is allowed in bars, pubs, restaurants, clubs. So she is exposed to people smoking and has easy access to cigarettes. Even though selling cigarettes to younger than 18 years olds is illegal, nobody respects that.
  • My father is not home very much and we try to keep him out of this, since we believe he won't approach this in an adequate way.
  • I have read this question and this question and this article. If you have any other suggestions, please let me know.
  • If your mom needs help with her feelings of being a bad parent, check out (and keep an eye on) this question. – Becuzz Nov 20 '15 at 15:27
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    Whatever route you choose, quitting ultimately must be her choice. Bribes and punishment will not work in the long term, and she is very likely to start smoking again. I think "convince" her to stop is the right word, so sounds like you're on the right track. – JPhi1618 Nov 20 '15 at 15:44
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    Alex, I have edited this a little bit to focus exclusively on the smoking question. It's also important to help you mother not feel like a failure, but that's a separate question (parents might feel that they failed in a number of circumstances); if the one that Becuzz linked to above isn't sufficient or specific enough, please feel free to ask a new question :) – Acire Nov 20 '15 at 16:50
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    Education. Honest, real, truthful education, not simply showing slides of tarred up lungs or old people with tracheotomies. Show the good sides of smoking, too. Help them to understand the neurological and neurochemical responses. Smoking is an adult action, so treat them like adults. – Ghedipunk Nov 20 '15 at 23:19
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    @Ghedipunk That is only important if you care about that sort of thing right then. Most teenagers don't, and many develop a fatalistic attitude that romanticizes dying young. What can we expect when we lock them in minimum security prison every adult work day until they reach an age where magically work-for-pay ceases to be called "child labor exploitation"? They live in a synthetic society -- this is one common reaction to that. The solution is changing concepts of cool, not threatening this or that damnation while peddling some prozaic concept of salvation via abstinence from adult life. – zxq9 Nov 22 '15 at 7:02
17

Different kids need to hear different messages. Many of the tactics, stratagems, and talking points that work on younger kids or non-smokers simply will not work if you are dealing with an older teen who already smokes (e.g. kissing a smoker is like kissing an ashtray). Some of what I'm about to suggest may actually be counterproductive for a non-smoker to hear.

It boils down to this:

  • In the short term: smoking doesn't seem very harmful and there are a variety of benefits (social belonging, de-stress, pleasant, appetite management).

BUT

  • In the long term: smoking is incredibly harmful.

I'm sure she already knows that, but you or your mother need to have a talk with her.

Part 1 - Figure Out The Appeal

Encourage her to talk through some of her thoughts and feelings. What is the appeal for her? While discussing, don't deny her feelings and experiences. If she says she likes the taste, don't tell her nobody could possibly like the taste. If she says it calms her down, don't deny it. Smoking is a hell of a way to meet people, especially important during a time when hormones are racing. The shared ritual in the smokepit is the ultimate icebreaker. Figure out which qualities are important to her before proceeding. This helps you build trust and anticipate challenges.

Part 2 - The Big Picture

This is where you lay out the facts: long-term smoking is incredibly damaging to health in a wide variety of ways. Even if she already knows (or professes to know), don't skip this step entirely. Smoking has profound affects on each of the following: hair, skin, taste/tongue, teeth, voice, athletic performance, COPD, cancer, etc. Don't take a deterministic view (i.e. don't say smoking will absolutely give you cancer); any given smoker will probably not experience diminution in all of those areas, but pretty much every smoker will be affected in some of those ways. Teenagers have a wonderful ability to engage in magical thinking; the point of this step is to strip away the idea that it can't happen to me.

Part 3 - Addiction

By this point, she'll probably admit that she doesn't intend to smoke forever, it's just something she's doing now that she'll probably quit later. Truth bomb: quitting smoking is crazy hard because it is both psychologically comforting and chemically addictive. The longer you smoke, the harder it is to stop. Ask her if she feels stress relief when she smokes. If she has, ask her if she thinks that is because smoking is genuinely stress relieving or if she is merely satisfying a chemical craving. Let her be honest. If she hasn't experienced cravings yet, tell her that's good news because it may be easier to quit. The point is to get her to conclude for herself that quitting is difficult and that she is becoming pysiologicically addicted regardless of her intentions. If she denies this, you may have to go into more depth with testimonials or stories from people she knows (maybe even her own friends who are already struggling with quitting).

Part 4 - The Next Steps

Hopefully she's now ready to accept the fact that she should quit, but this is where you encourage her to quit now (again: the longer you wait, the harder it is). In light of all the things discussed in part 1, ask her what kind of replacement behaviors and habits she'll need to develop to compensate. In light of part 3, ask her what kind of strategies she can use to combat the chemical side of addiction. Let her know that even with replacements, it will be hard. There are many different strategies and tools, all of which work for differently for different people. The key is to recognize that a variety of strategies should be employed and she should be willing to swap out techniques that are not working. Tell her she can ask for support, then support her when she asks.

Good luck in your efforts to help her, and good luck to her in her effort to kick the habit.

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    Good list! In addition, somebody should take her do some sports. If she cares anything about physical fitness she'll be appalled about how weak smoking makes her body. (That works best if she can be convined to pause smoking for a month and compare her performance.) – Raphael Nov 21 '15 at 20:20
11

This may be country-dependent (I'm German), but my experience is that smoking is largely considered to be uncool among (educated) twenty-somethings.

Maybe your sister can't wait to get older (to finish high school, to go to university, etc.). If that's the case, since you are 23, you are in a good position to convince her that, in the environment she aspires to belong to, smoking isn't cool at all.

Also, I think you should treat her like an adult. Give her the feeling that you trust her to make her own decisions (even if you secretly doubt that), and argue rationally. She knows a single cigarette doesn't do much harm, so no use pretending otherwise and making a big deal out of the high school trip. Instead focus on the risk (also monetary!) of addiction (nobody finds that cool). Don't show her how concerned you are about her having smoked a couple of times, but how proud you would be if she manages to not make it a habit despite the peer pressure.

  • I agree highly with this; pointing out that smoking is a 'childish' thing to do might help convince her that she is making a mistake. Here in the central US it's largely viewed the same way. – A. Wilcox Nov 21 '15 at 22:35
8

I started smoking at 17 because a girl I had a huge crush on smoked so it gave me an excuse to hang out with her. What would it have taken for her to convince me? I dunno. That girl saying no and a developing interest in a non-smoker? Yeah, I know, teenagers can be shallow and stupid. At least I can be honest about it.

It didn't help that I was already fairly financially self-sufficient (school plus a full-time job) so my parents couldn't bribe me. I will say this - punishment would not have worked. Quite the opposite. I did have a friend's parents get him to quit by matching the money he saved not-smoking. But if she's smoking to fit in with a certain crowd, the odds are stacked against you until she finishes school and that social circle becomes less relevant.

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    Given the votes I might be off-base here, but this doesn't seem like an answer. Your personal experience would be a useful comment, but "Punishment won't work" isn't an answer to "What will work?". – Matthew Read Nov 20 '15 at 19:43
  • @MatthewRead I'm fully with Michael on this one. I started smoking at 15, my parents found out at 17, and I don't think they could do anything to stop me from smoking. Not with the mindset I had. I simply wanted to smoke. Majority of people from my school did. To be with them, I smoked too. It was not a cool thing. I was fully aware of the bad sides of smoking. But it was the best excuse to spend time with people. And honestly I kind of fell for it. End of the story. My parents punishing me or forcing anything on me would only help me to dislike them, not stop smoking. – ROAL Nov 20 '15 at 21:28
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    I think you are quite correct that this convincing a teen to quit smoking will be an uphill battle. However, Matthew is right: you are not really answering the question that was asked. See meta (meta.parenting.stackexchange.com/a/124/4054) -- while it's OK to explain why it's such a challenge, can you also offer constructive advice that the OP can use to move forward? – Acire Nov 20 '15 at 22:50
  • Value of "you've been there" is that you could provide input on whether in your circumstances, you think you'd be willing to negotiate various compromises. Starting with respecting parents' house and maybe some other environments as non-smoking (because you wouldn't want to damage the health of, and relations with, non-smokers). The OP has asked a very articulate question and provided links on whose content you might want to comment, too. – Jirka Hanika Nov 21 '15 at 21:19
4

Many times it seems as though smoking is done for stress management, or for appearance.

Appearance

Everybody else is doing it. She finds one (or more) friend she likes, and her friend goes outside and they continue bonding as.. her friend smokes. The friend offers her one, and worried how it would look if she denied it, she accepts.

Keep in mind that fitting in is something that people generally need. The depression and social bullying that can take place when one doesn't fit in is certainly nothing to laugh at. She probably views it as harmless. In her view those long-term effects won't touch her, because she can smoke and fit in now, and then quit when she wants too.

Stress Management

For whatever reason, she used it once or twice. Now, if there's stress, she wants to smoke. It's her body's way of dealing with the stress. She feels like she needs it to deal with the stress. Nothing else will work and, in some cases, the simple act of not smoking can cause even more stress in situations where she may not want the nicotine withdrawal affecting her attitude and mentality.

I have known some smokers who continue to smoke because they fear what they'd be like without it.


In short, you need to discover why she smokes and then work on showing why those views are false, or, work on overcoming the difficulties of actually quitting. You'll notice that the general way to prevent smoking is by "talking to them". This is because understanding their troubles and knowing why they'd want to smoke in the first place is what allows you to advise them on ways that concern can be handled in a more healthy manner.

On appearance, you'd probably have to argue whether she really needs to smoke to fit in. She can still hang out with her friends, though second-hand smoke is still a problem its not as bad as smoking yourself.

On stress management, you'd have to work on quitting smoking in a step-by-step manner until its proven she really doesn't need it to handle stress.

As a teenager, there is a third reason she could be doing it. For rebelling purposes. Accepting it is her choice and her life may help if this is a reason for her, though it is challenging to let someone do something you see as hurting themselves, it may be the only way they decide to stop for themselves.

In whatever solution you choose, she has to want it too. Using extra motivations (money, privileges, etc) will help, but won't be successful unless she really has buy-in in wanting to quit.

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    I like your answer but I disagree with this part: "why she smokes and then work on showing why those views are false." Denying her experience seems like it would turn her off to your advice. Her experiences are likely valid, even if they are ultimately harmful. – brian_o Nov 20 '15 at 22:53
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    Perhaps instead: "work on showing her why her motivations are outweighed by the risks and negatives"? – Acire Nov 21 '15 at 0:50
  • I agree it could be worded better. But in what I was thinking, some people would willingly take some of those risks and negatives if they feel it would threaten their friendships and relationships. The fact that their relationships are not dependent on smoking is the kind of view I would try to point out, but it would be more tactful to let them reason it out and just ask questions. – DoubleDouble Nov 21 '15 at 0:57
  • In other ways, I agree that denying their experiences would probably be a poor way to go about it. Feel free to edit it if you think you have a good way of expressing that – DoubleDouble Nov 21 '15 at 1:01
2

Harris (2011) suggests

[a]n ad campaign designed to get across the idea that the promotion of smoking is a plot against teenagers by adults — by the fat cats of the tobacco industry. Show a covey of sleazy tobacco executives cackling gleefully each time a teenager buys a pack of cigarettes. Show them dreaming up ads designed to sell their products to the gullible teen — ads depicting smoking as cool and smokers as sexy.

This philosophy was pushed to an extreme by the Non-Smokers' Rights Association in France.

I found some evidence from Farrelly et al. (2012) that approaches of this sort work.

Thus, my suggestion is that you frame things in terms of smoking constituting gullible support for exploitative corporations. This would work particularly well if your sister is left-leaning, as most teenage girls are.

Farrelly, M. C., Healton, C. G., Davis, K. C., Messeri, P., Hersey, J. C., & Haviland, M. L. (2002). Getting to the truth: evaluating national tobacco countermarketing campaigns. American Journal of Public Health, 92(6), 901-907

Harris, J. R. (2011). The nurture assumption: Why children turn out the way they do. Simon and Schuster.

2

You said that you had a conversation with her. Do you know why she smokes? Does she smoke only with friends or at home too? Is it to be "cool" or because she is stressed or maybe something else?

My advice would be try to know why she is smoking. You will need a different approach based on whether it's to be cool or if it's because she is stressed.

And I agree with JPhi1618's comment, it must be her choice; punishment won't work.

1

It strongly depends on the level of addiction. If it is in the starting stage, shock may help.

When my teacher found her son was smoking she took him to faculty hospital to attend autopsy of lifetime smoker.

Quite brutal way, I agree, but it did the job - he quit quite short after that.

If she is in advanced stage of addiction, she must identify herself as addicted and fully agreed she wants to change. Replacing nicotine addiction by different "activity" is the way - active sports are good replacement.

Support her. Remind her successes (whole week without a cig) and belittle her failures (hey, it was one cig after whole month).

0

At this point, I think the only way to convince a teenager to quit smoking is financial. As chilling as they are, PSA's showing some "nameless unfortunate old guy" are just not going to have an impact. Old age is a looong way off.

By financial, I mean your Mother should require that your sister purchase her own cigarettes and all of the other teenage "necessities". When she has to choose between a new iPhone or a pack of smokes, there is a good chance that the phone will win. I also think your Mother has legitimate cause to cut off her allowance, if she receives one. Why should your Mom enable your sister to continue this behavior?

0

To help this young woman, clearly in trouble with a lethal and expensive drug, you need to consider both addiction and the cycle of change (google and read about this helpful generic approach to behaviour management). 1. Looking at the cycle of change: you're at step 1 - you need to get the woman thinking about change (then, after that, helping her to decide she wants to change). To get this woman thinking about quitting, you probably need a relationship with her friends - chances are she's doing this to 'look cool' (largely because it's flipping the bird at authority), so if her friends are all a positive audience for smoking your intervention is probably going to fail. 2. Addiction - if this woman gets to the point of deciding that she wants to quit (quite a long way down the cycle of change from now), you need to consider the fact that she is almost certainly, after a year, addicted. Quitting is going to be hard work and she'll need some support, maybe even want some help from a doctor.

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