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How to Help Kids Dodge Cigarette, Vaping, and Pot Marketing and Stay Smoke-Free

New ways to smoke, new stuff to smoke, and evolving legal guidelines make it tougher to teach kids to just say no.

Whether or not you smoke cigarettes or support legalizing marijuana, you probably don't want your kids lighting up. But the rise of e-cigs, vaporizers like the Juul, and decriminalized pot may make your standard anti-smoking arguments -- "it causes cancer," "it's illegal" -- feel a little shaky. Add in celebrities posting pictures of themselves smoking various substances, and you might wonder: Is it possible to raise drug-free, smoke-free kids in the era of Smoking 2.0? Yes, but it helps to have a little ammunition.

Vaping is an especially tough one, because kids encounter tons of information about it online. According to a November 2019 survey conducted by Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey:

  • Vaping is popular among teens, and it's happening regularly at school. One-third of teens (33%) say they see classmates vaping in school a few times a week or daily. More than half (54%) say they see it monthly. Nearly eight in 10 (78%) say vaping is popular among people their age where they live.
  • Most teens think vaping is as harmful as smoking. Just over half of teens (52%) say vaping is "about as harmful as smoking," while 31% say it's more harmful and 17% say it's less harmful. Among those teens who say vaping is less harmful than smoking, 43% say they've gotten messages online telling them that "vaping is healthier than smoking cigarettes."
  • One in four teens first learned about vaping on social media. A plurality of teens (44%) say they first learned or heard about vaping from someone they know, while 23% first heard about it on social media, 9% from TV or a movie, and less than that from outdoor ads, in a store, on a website, on the radio, or on a podcast.
  • Vaping is common in teens' social media experiences. When thinking about their typical experience using social media, 59% of teens say they're likely to see a post that mentions or shows vaping.

If you're feeling outspent, out-messaged, and out-cooled, take heart. There are plenty of ways to fight back. Here's how to help your kids resist the marketing of traditional cigarettes, vaporizers, e-cigs, and pot.

Traditional cigarettes

  • Explain how bad smoking is for you. Kids think they're immune and immortal. The death statistics could be eye-opening, even for the "it won't happen to me" age group.
  • Talk about how addictive nicotine is. Nicotine is really difficult to quit. Discuss the signs of physical addiction and the risk of getting addicted.
  • Help them resist gimmicks. Traditional cigarettes are trying to capture smoker interest by using kid-friendly tricks -- for example, the Camel Crush cigarettes with a menthol ball inside. But the cigarettes still really are bad for you.
  • Explain that Big Tobacco just wants to addict you. When cigarette smoking declined, tobacco companies such as Altria bought the vaping company Juul.

Vaporizors and e-cigs

  • Share the facts. E-cigarettes and vapes reduce exposure to some of the harmful chemicals of tobacco cigarettes, but no one really knows the impact of these products on kids' health. And studies show they contain formaldehyde.
  • Tell them to wait. Tell them it's important that they wait until their brains and bodies have developed fully before they consume something potentially harmful.
  • Talk about addiction. Kids can get hooked on nicotine but also on the physical habit of reaching for a pipe.
  • Get your doctor involved. Have your pediatrician talk to your kid about the dangers of ingesting any chemical you don't know much about.
  • Help them see through the hype. Talk about marketing methods such as using celebrities and how companies try to make e-cigs seem as though they are healthier and better for the environment than tobacco cigarettes.
  • Cite the death statistics. Dozens of people have died from vaping -- and many more have become sick.


  • Impart your values. Teens are still listening to their parents, despite much evidence to the contrary. Discuss what's important to you: good character, solid judgment, and belief in a bright future -- all of which are compromised by smoking pot.
  • Explain the health consequences. Study after study indicates that pot negatively affects a teen's developing brain.
  • Encourage waiting. For some kids, forbidding might backfire, so focus on preventing them from starting to smoke in the first place, delaying it as long as possible.
  • Look for warning signs. Be on the lookout for things that might be affecting your kid in other areas of his or her life -- for example, social exclusion, school problems, and emotional instability.
  • Pull back the curtain on pot marketing. Kids and teens don't like to be tricked, and advertising is full of sneaky ways to get people to buy a product, including branding pot products with names such as Bob Marley and Willie Nelson. Instead of lecturing, help your kids break down the ads to see how they try to influence emotions, choices, and behavior.

To learn more about what you can do to help stop e-cig and vape advertising, check out Common Sense Kids Action.

Caroline Knorr
Caroline is Common Sense Media's former parenting editor. She has many years of editorial and creative marketing writing experience and has held senior-level positions at, Walmart stores, Cnet, and Bay Area Parent magazine. She specializes in translating complex information into bite-sized chunks to help families make informed choices about what their kids watch, play, read, and do.