Starting at the ripe old age of 4, children should be informed about proper nutrition, the need for exercise, and avoiding harmful foods and activities (like smoking) that will inhibit a healthy lifestyle.

By Tony Ramos

While smoking cessation programs and information on the harmful effects associated with tobacco use have been around for quite some time, one segment of the population that has not responded well to the “stop, don’t start” smoking campaign consists of teenagers and preteens. Author Jennifer Vavra has written an excellent article, “Smoking Cessation Programs for Teens,” beginning on page 75. She discusses current statistics on teen and preteen smoking, solutions on how to appeal to the 18 and younger crowd, and reasons why some past programs and approaches have not been successful. She also offers some innovative ways in which health care professionals can approach teen smoking and shares information on efforts that are showing signs of success.

While educating youths even as young as 5 years of age on the harmful effects of tobacco needs to be a central component of any campaign to reduce teen and preteen smoking, allied health care professionals also need to impress upon kids and their parents the overall benefits from living a complete healthy lifestyle. Starting at the ripe old age of 4, children should be informed about proper nutrition, the need for exercise, and avoiding harmful foods and activities (like smoking) that will inhibit a healthy lifestyle. Once children get into the habit of eating and liking the right foods, participating in and enjoying exercise, and are encouraged and applauded for getting a proper amount of rest, a lifestyle foundation will have been built that is less likely to incorporate things like smoking. Too often the health care system, the media, educators, and parents alike harp on the negative side of smoking, when a better approach would be to point out the positive side of living the complete healthy life. Kindergarten teachers will tell you that one of the goals that they’re trying to accomplish with these rambunctious 5- and 6-year-olds is to get them to internalize their own moral code so they themselves can make the right choices instead of constantly having it directed to them.

A 6-year-old who is already eating a balanced diet—and this does not mean that indulging in an occasional cheeseburger with fries and a root beer is treated like a crime—participating in team sports or athletic endeavors, spending a good amount of time outdoors, and getting 9 to 10 hours of sleep each night is far more likely to avoid the peer pressure so often associated with smoking when he or she reaches the age of 9 or 10. The reason is not just because mom and dad say that smoking is bad or because he or she watched a 15-minute video on smoking at school, but because junior likes being healthy, enjoys leading an active lifestyle, and by this time has figured out that taking care of his body is an important part of life. Too often we underestimate the ability of children to recognize things that many adults think that children do not understand. Getting kids to take personal responsibility for their words, thoughts, and actions is one of the most important parts of being a good parent. And for those educators and health care professionals who come in contact with kids, if you take the time and put forth the effort to promote and encourage a complete healthy lifestyle, you will be either planting the seeds of future behavior or watering the seeds of whatever has previously taken place in the home.

As a coach for children under the age of 8, I had the opportunity at the start of T-ball season in March to hear a speech on opening day from a former member of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. Realizing that he was speaking to kids ranging in ages from 5 to 13, he had to deliver a message that was both targeted and varied. However, when it came to the topic of tobacco and alcohol, he pulled no punches. He drove home the fact that each boy on the field, regardless of his level of baseball experience and God-given ability or lack of ability to play sports, should focus on three things. Always try your best, listen to your coaches, parents, and teachers, and stay away from tobacco and alcohol. Do these three things, he said, and you will have a lot of fun and reach your full potential as a sandlot baseball player, student, and son. Surrounded by my team’s nine kids, ages 5 to 6 years old, I overheard more than one kid say, “Yeah, that’s right, don’t ever smoke.” Right on, dude!


Tony Ramos is the former publisher of RT. For more information, contact [email protected].