By Ronald G. Rios
Middlesex County Freeholder Chairperson,
Committee of Public Health and Education
For almost 25 years, I was a smoker. I began this unhealthy habit at a young age because I thought it was cool. I wish now that someone had explained then what it had taken me 25 years to realize: Not only did I put myself at risk, I may have endangered the ones I love because of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke exposure.
Despite all the reports and all the warnings about these dangers, more than 4,400 children each day still find themselves on the path to becoming regular smokers.
We, as parents and educators, need to tell them it’s not cool. We need to hammer the point that smoking is dangerous and can have serious consequences. We need to help them quit, or better yet, not to start in the first place.
Smoking is a serious health problem among our youth. It is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, and can lead to a number of conditions, including cancer, heart and lung disease, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks and emphysema.
Children may have a romanticized vision of what it means to smoke from watching movies or seeing advertisements. Some smokers—young and old – say they smoke to lose weight or won’t quit because they fear they will gain weight. This is not a healthy attitude.
What smokers may not know is the effect that prolonged smoking can have on their health, or how terribly addictive nicotine can be. Nicotine, a drug naturally found in tobacco, can be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Once a person becomes physically and emotionally addicted to nicotine, it can be very difficult to quit smoking. To help our children live happy and healthy lives in the future, it is important that we address the very real dangers of tobacco use with them now.
Talk to your kids about smoking. If you suspect that your child may be smoking, have an honest conversation about it with them. It’s easy to become angry and upset when faced with something that can be harmful to your child, but it’s more productive to have an open dialogue. Trust and understanding can be your most effective tools when addressing this topic.
If you need additional help or information about children and smoking, please contact the Middlesex County Health Department. The Health Department offers a series of preventative programs for community and school sites that can be arranged by calling the Health Education Division at 1-732-745-8860.
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