“I would never ever in a million years smoke cigarettes,” my 15-year-old daughter says to me. She is earnest and emphatic. We’re in the car – our best place for conversations – and she reaches over and touches my arm to underscore the point.
I am glad. I am more than glad. At her age, I was already sneaking cigarettes from my mother’s purse. (She smoked Parliaments, with that unique recessed filter that was going to protect lungs from the bad stuff. Right.) At 17, I thought smoking was cool and oh-so sophisticated. At 19, in college and on my way to a pack-a-day habit, I believed that smoking was essential to my self-image as a writer. It took me 15 years to believe otherwise…and to quit. Never starting would have been way way easier. Never starting would have been smarter, healthier and, in fact, cooler.
Never starting is the very best choice. That’s why, when my daughter tells me she’ll never ever in a million years smoke cigarettes , I give her a blindingly sunny smile and squeeze her hand and tell her how smart she is. There are a lot of smart teens out there these days.
I am delighted to say the news about cigarettes and teens is very good here in Oregon, where I live. The state just released a report comparing smoking habits in 1996 with those in 2007 ten years after the launch of a consistent, concerted, well funded state-wide Tobacco Prevention and Education Program . (My daughter and her cohort have been exposed to these anti-cigarette messages since pre-school.) In 1996, before the campaign began, 22 percent of 8th graders smoked. In 2007, the number was down to 9 percent. That’s an incredible 60 percent decrease, if I’m doing the math correctly. Among 11th graders in the state, smoking decreased by almost half, from 28 percent to 16 percent.
Smoking is no longer cool. What cause for celebration! The campaign is working. And, if my daughter and her friends are any indication, it is working not by delivering scare messages (Smoke and you will die), but through subtler, tween and teen-centered tactics. Which is to say: vanity messages (Smoke and your teeth will get yellow and stained and no one will want to kiss you). Personally, I find lung cancer and emphysema more compelling reasons – but then I am not 13 or 14, so young that some disease I might get 30 or 40 years from now seems as remote as…well, as remote as some disease I might get 30 or 40 years from now.
“So tell me, what’s your top reason for making this great decision?” I ask my daughter. We talk a lot more now since we started our mother-daughter blog ( www.myteenagewerewolf.com ), an outgrowth of the book. She stops to think for a moment. “It makes your hair smell awful,” she says, smoothing her sleek, shiny, reddish-brown (bronze and caramel tinted, I might add) shoulder-length mane. “I mean the smell stays in your hair like all day.”