The summer after graduating high school I spent a lot of late nights frequenting dance clubs. My friends and I would get ready at 9 p.m. (remember getting ready to go out that late!?), dress in our best club attire, take the train into New York City to The Limelight, and dance the night away. We were 18, so the bar was off limits, plus none of us were really into drinking alcohol. The group of us could find endless ways of entertaining each other sober. Once we showed up at an all-night diner with our own fancy silverware, placemats, and a huge candelabra centerpiece, laughing hysterically at our own antics.
We did, however, smoke cigarettes. The year was 1993, the brand was Virginia Slims, and yeah, we were stupid. Perched on a bar stool in my tight gauze dress and chunky platform heels, I thought I looked so chic with a plume of smoke snaking out of my nude matte lips.
Fast forward to 2023, I’m now a mom of my own 18-year-old, and I was recently very surprised to find out he smokes cigarettes.
Smoking prevalence has been on a downswing since the days of my youth, so I was genuinely shocked to find a pack of cigarettes shoved in a drawer in my son’s room. I was expecting to find a vape pen since he had admitted to trying vaping several times. Honestly, I didn’t think kids smoked cigarettes anymore.
Because of mass media campaigns, education on tobacco, and a general disdain society now has for smelly cigarettes, it is true smoking has hugely decreased since 1993, but somehow my kid managed to become a smoker. When I first discovered the pack in his room I decided to approach him with curiosity and tried to dial down my obvious concern. Turns out some of his reasons weren’t that different from my smoking years, but other reasons left me unsettled.
My son shared that he was influenced to a degree by external sources, and aesthetics played a part in his decision to smoke. His favorite singer often lights up on stage and my kid said he felt he looked cooler with a cigarette. I thought about my son, dressed in his black trench, hair shaggy, holding a cigarette, his fingernails painted a glossy black. I could understand why he might think this was a good look. I thought the same when I was 18. Obviously, I wasn’t about to encourage him, but I kept an open mind, put on a brave droll, and continued to listen. What he shared next broke my heart.
Turns out, he was using smoking as a coping mechanism to help ease his anxiety and lift him out of the depressive fog he sometimes falls victim to. He believed cigarettes calmed him down. It was then my job to explain that this was a myth and try to get him on a path to well-being that doesn’t involve constricted blood vessels.
Working as a certified pharmacy technician, I have filled numerous prescriptions for Varenicline, nicotine patches, and gum. I’ve seen the effects of long-term smoking, including addiction, heart and lung disease, and chronic bronchitis. My son wasn’t going to worry about these things because teenagers feel they are invincible, so I was sure to inform him that smoking robs oxygen from the skin, causing premature wrinkles, not to mention yellowing of the teeth and smelling terrible. Not exactly a good look. I hoped bringing light to the fact that smoking will most definitely rob you of youthful skin would act as a deterrent.
My biggest hurdle was addressing the use of cigarettes to cope with low mood. My son, like myself, struggles with depression and anxiety. I placed a call to his doctor for a med check. With antidepressants, you sometimes have to mix things up. I also let him know that I am his biggest ally and advocate. Encouraging him to open up to me isn’t always easy, but I made it clear that I am here for him and will try my best to listen without getting upset. I also shared some tips I personally use when I’m feeling anxious, such as naming things around me that I can see, hear, feel, taste, and touch.
Honesty is important in my relationship with my children. I would rather know something not so great about my kid than have him hide it from me. Here’s where things may get a little controversial. I didn’t punish or ban my son from smoking. It’s not that I’m accepting him smoking, but I am accepting my son as the way he is and sometimes that’s going to include him doing things I don’t agree with.
I don’t want my son to smoke cigarettes, and I have let him know my stance; however, I want my son to be comfortable enough for him to share stuff with me . . . even if it’s stuff I don’t like.