Many teenagers want to quit smoking and make serious attempts to do so each year. However, most are addicted to nicotine and have little knowledge about the quitting process.

In most cases young people go ‘cold turkey’, quitting abruptly without any assistance or medication. Not surprisingly, quit rates are very low. Here are 5 tips to help young smokers quit:

1. Acknowledge their autonomy

Adolescent smokers feel that it is their decision to smoke or not, not something that should be forced upon them. It is important for them to set their own goals and proceed at their own pace. Lecturing, preaching or nagging are counterproductive. Provide information, offer support and help them to make their own choices.

2. Discuss the immediate effects of smoking

The long-term health effects of smoking such as cancer and heart disease are less relevant to young people. Focus instead on the immediate physical issues such as:

* Bad breath, smelly hair, yellow teeth, discoloured skin

* Reduced fitness

* Shortness of breath, wheezing

* Higher stress levels

* Reduced sense of taste and smell

* More coughs and colds

3. Calculate the cost of smoking

Young people are often surprised to find out how much they are actually spending on cigarettes. Even a pack a week costs $900 per year. Ask what they could buy with that money? 30 CDs, 150 magazines, 90 movie tickets…

4. Discuss nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

Nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, mouth spray and inhalator reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms (such as anxiety, insomnia and anger) and almost double success rates.

NRT is recommended for all addicted smokers and is approved from the age of 12 years. Young smokers are likely to be addicted if they have had difficulties quitting in the past or have experienced urges or withdrawal symptoms after not smoking for a while.

Teenage smokers generally know very little about NRT. They should be informed that it is safe and effective and be given clear instructions on its use. A course of 8-12 weeks is recommended. The risk of becoming addicted to NRT is very small.

5. Help them make a plan

It helps to plan a quitting strategy. Some important elements are

* Identify the barriers to quitting (eg peer pressure, weight gain, stress) and develop strategies to deal with them

* Plan how to cope with cravings and temptations to smoke when they occur

* Use nicotine replacement therapy if addicted to nicotine

* Set a quit day

* Suggest some treats to reward the teenager for becoming smoke-free

* Get support from friends and parents * Get professional help: a smoking specialist (, the GP, pharmacist or Quitline 137 848.


Helping adolescents to quit smoking is one of the key themes of the inaugural Australian Smoking Cessation Conference, being held at the University of Sydney from 6-8 November 2013. Professor Joseph DiFranza, the world’s foremost expert and researcher on adolescent smoking will be conducting a 4-hour workshop and giving presentations, along with other experts in the field. For more information go to


Dr Colin Mendelsohn is a Tobacco Treatment Specialist and Vice-President of the Australian Association of Smoking Cessation Professionals.