By Mike Miller
Do you think current youth tobacco education programs are working?  Despite warnings that use of the product may kill them, alongside horrific images of people suffering the ravages of tobacco addition, every day more than 6,000 kids in America smoke their first cigarette.  Obviously we need to look at youth tobacco education from another angle.
Youth tobacco education seems to work best on children under the age of 12.  Young kids know that smoking is dangerous.  Most say they will never smoke and hate the smell of the second-hand smoke.  So why do so many change their minds as teenagers?  What is lacking in our current efforts at youth tobacco education?
How many of these 6,000 kids think they will become addicted to cigarettes when they take their first puff?  Kids worry more about getting in trouble with their parents than the fear of addiction.
Fear of Addiction
That phrase, fear of addiction, is what I think is lacking in most of today’s youth tobacco education programs.  As a counselor for both in-class and online youth tobacco education classes I discuss this topic with my students in every session.
Fear is one of the best motivators.  My belief is to instill a good sense of this fear in youth tobacco education programs.  The addiction for life issue needs to be the basis for keeping kids from ever taking that first puff.
Addiction is not something to laugh at and think will happen to some other person, or imagine an alcoholic or drug addict.  Addiction needs to be close and personal.  Addiction can happen to anyone.  Genetic predisposition plays a role as well, but none of us are immune from addiction.
As a counselor for both in-class and online tobacco awareness classes I often ask my students “what is the best way not to get addicted to nicotine.”  Keep in mind, virtually all of my students have had a tobacco-related offense and are under the age of 18.  Our kids are smarter than you think.
Almost unanimously these students taking a youth tobacco awareness class know the answer – do not ever try it.
I can vividly remember many years where I thought cigarettes (tobacco), alcohol and all drugs were abhorrent and users were degenerate losers!  Just a few short years later I was addicted to nicotine, a chronic marijuana smoker and a recreational user of a handful of other illegal drugs.
The question is how to make youth tobacco awareness a priority.  In-class and online youth tobacco awareness classes are a great way for both parents and children to educate themselves as to why nicotine should never even be experimented with.
Just think about how often youth is willing to experiment with smoking a cigarette but is mortally terrified about heroin.  Why do you think that is?  Perhaps kids think it is safer to try smoking a tobacco cigarette and less likely to be addictive.  A good youth tobacco awareness class will enlighten many to this simple fact – nicotine is as addictive as heroin!
I would mandate youth tobacco awareness classes for all of our children as part of their school curriculum.  There should be a minimum of four hours of instruction each year starting in middle school.  The key to keeping our youth tobacco free is to keep them from ever trying it in the first place.
About the Author: Mike Miller is an educator specializing in alcohol awareness classes for both adults and minors. A recovering alcoholic, Mike left his work in corporate America to focus on a more fulfilling life of helping others with alcohol addiction issues. He is now the education director at