How to Know if a Teen Is Smoking

Three Parts:Talking to Your Children About SmokingKnowing the Physical SymptomsLooking for Other Signs

Teenagers are more susceptible to becoming addicted to nicotine than any other group of people. Ninety percent of smokers began smoking before the age of 19[1], so it is essential to be wary of the signs of smoking to try to prevent the serious side effects caused by smoking including cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and other heart diseases. Here are a few tips to figure out if your teenager is smoking or not.

Part 1
Talking to Your Children About Smoking

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    Start early. Make sure that you talk to your child about smoking long before you think you need to. Kids need to know about the dangers of smoking so that they can internalize the information and already have a negative opinion about smoking before they encounter their first opportunity to smoke.
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    Ask your children about smoking. Be frank with your children and ask them openly if they smoke. Let them know that you love them no matter what and that you understand the lure of smoking, but you don't approve of it. Sometimes starting a dialogue is all you need to do to help your child through a rough time.
    • Note: If you have experience smoking, tell your children about how difficult it was for you to quit and that you wish you had never started in the first place.
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    If your child admits to smoking, try to gather as much information as possible. Ask your child when and why they started smoking, how often they smoke, if their friends smoke, etc. This will help you you figure out what appeal smoking has for your child[2], so you'll be better equipped to help them quit or to learn how to say no in the future.
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    Stay calm. Kids often don't respond as well if you are visibly upset when you talk to them. Keep your cool and talk to your child about smoking. Answer any questions they might have and let them know they can always talk to you about these things.
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    Tell your child that you don't approve of smoking. Even if it seems like they aren't listening to you, your child needs to hear you say that smoking is forbidden. If you don't put your foot down, they won't have any parental guidance telling them that it's not okay to smoke. They might disobey you and smoke anyway, but it is important that you encourage them not to smoke.
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    Be clear about the consequences of smoking. The negative effects of smoking are very real and greatly outweigh any possible perceived benefits. Talk to your kids about the consequences of smoking, including the following things:
    • Health risks. There are many obvious, very scary health problems that come with smoking. Be frank with your children about the risk of heart disease, cancer, and the statistics about early death caused by smoking.
    • Vanity. Appeal to your child's vanity by telling them about the many unattractive qualities that accompany most smokers.[3] Smoking makes your hair and clothes smell bad, yellows your teeth, causes premature wrinkles, stains your fingers yellow, etc.
    • Financial. Smoking is expensive. Even if your child has a part-time job, the financial strain of becoming a smoker will be much harder than they are probably expecting. Do the math with them. Figure out how much a pack of cigarettes costs, how much your child smokes (or use a one pack per day number for an average smoker), and calculate how much they'll be spending on average for a month of smoking. The financial cost will be a sobering reality even if they aren't concerned about the physical risks.

Part 2
Knowing the Physical Symptoms

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    Watch out for the smokers' cough. One of the most common and immediate symptoms of smoking is the persistent smokers' cough. It can appear in as little as a few days after beginning smoking and can even be present with casual (not heavy) smoking.[4] The cough is usually the worst in the morning and lessens throughout the day. It is usually accompanied by phlegm which can be clear, yellow, or even green.
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    Watch for yellowing teeth. Smoking causes teeth to turn yellow over time, so be mindful of this if your child's teeth start to look more yellow.
    • Also take notice if your child suddenly becomes interested in teeth whitening products like special whitening toothpaste or whitening strips.
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    Look for yellow stains on your child's fingers. While yellowing teeth may take some time to appear, smoking cigarettes can cause yellow stains on your teen's fingers and fingernails almost immediately.[5]
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    Pay attention if your teen is wheezing. A wheezing sound can indicate several different physical conditions in your child, but one of them is damaged airways/lungs from smoking.
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    Notice any shortness of breath. Shortness of breath is a tell-tale sign of a smoker. If your child is suddenly not able to be active for long periods of time or takes longer to catch their breath after physical activity, you should consider the possibility that they might be smoking.
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    Look for a higher frequency of respiratory diseases. Smokers are more prone to getting certain respiratory diseases like colds, bronchitis, and pneumonia.[6] If your child is suddenly getting sick more frequently with diseases like this, you might need to be concerned that these illnesses are the side effects of a new smoking habit.

Part 3
Looking for Other Signs

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    See if their clothes (or hair) smells like smoke. The smell of cigarette smoke is a scent that lingers and is hard to get rid of. If your teenager has been smoking, it is almost guaranteed that you will be able to smell it on their clothes or in their hair (especially if they have longer hair).
    • Note: Sometimes teenagers try to cover up the smell of smoke by overcompensating with cologne or body spray. You will still be able to smell the smoke, but it might be partially masked by the perfume.
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    Notice if they start leaving the windows open in their bedroom. Kids will often try to air out or vent their room by leaving the window open after smoking in their room. It might be normal for your child to want their window open, but pay special attention if they insist on doing it even when the weather is unpleasant (too hot, too cold, rainy, etc.).
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    Look for burn holes in the carpet, in their car, and in their clothing. Teenage smokers are less experienced and have worse hand-eye coordination than adults. So, they are more prone to accidentally burning things if they start smoking. Watch out for burn marks on the carpet in their room or on their clothing. Also look for burn marks in their car, as many teens think they can mask the smell of the smoke more effectively in their car then in their room.
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    Watch out for matches or a lighter in their room or backpack/purse. It may be hard to notice these tiny objects, but if your teenager has recently started carrying around or purchasing lighters and/or matches, this may be a sign that they are smoking.[7] They may claim that they only want it for lighting candles, but notice the frequency with which they use the matches or lighter to determine if you think they are smoking or not.
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    Notice if they have friends who smoke. Teenage smokers can be very persuasive, so other teenagers often succumb to existing peer pressure to smoke.[8] Teens with friends who smoke are much more likely to start smoking than those without smoker friends.[9]
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    Pay attention if they start using mouthwash or gum more frequently. Smokers can be very conscious of the fact that smoking makes their breath smell distinctively like cigarettes. So they often try to counteract this effect by chewing gum or using mouthwash after smoking. If your child appears to be worrying to an extreme about how their breath smells, they might be trying to hide the fact that they are smoking from you.
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    Check how they are spending their money. Smoking is an expensive habit. If you have access, check your teen's online bank account activity and see if they are making frequent purchases at convenience stores, grocery stores, or smoke shops. If they are buying cigarettes regularly, there will be a money trail for you to find.


  • Make sure you observe the situation carefully before you go making accusations about your child smoking. Be sure before you act.
  • If your child is over 18, you can't force them to quit.
  • Talk to them about the consequences of smoking.


  • Don't punish your children until you know the whole story.

Article Info

Categories: Smoking