Keeping children on
a safe path
Wondering how to keep children from starting to drink or smoke? Start young — preferably before your child experiments with either one — to build a sturdy foundation.
• Talk to a school guidance counselor or your child’s doctor about free, helpful programs for parents on guiding healthy behaviors.
• Brainstorm with your child about ways to say no to risky behavior. Aim for a full scale of options between “No, thanks” and “Stop asking — I said no.”
• Discuss good reasons not to drink or smoke. Ask children what they think and share your beliefs and values. Talk honestly about relatives who had health problems or died due to tobacco or alcohol addictions. Problems like bad breath, yellow teeth and embarrassing behavior may be persuasive, too.
• Set expectations for healthy behaviors. Use simple rewards and consequences to encourage good behavior.
• Set an example. If necessary, try to quit smoking or drinking too much.
• Keep lines of communication open. Check in regularly about how the day went. Ask about plans, friends and activities.
• Call your child’s doctor or guidance counselor for more help if you think your child is smoking or drinking.
A dangerous combination
Cancer cells have glitches that keep them alive long past their normal lifespan. The rogue cells multiply again and again, snowballing into a tumor. Over time, they invade nearby tissue, crowding out normal cells. Some may travel to distant sites in the body and spark additional tumors.
Usually, the first flickers of trouble for head and neck cancers start in the moist tissue cells lining the mouth, nose and throat.
What causes head and neck cancers?
Tobacco and heavy alcohol use are the two key risks for most head and neck cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. A whopping 85 percent of these cancers are linked to tobacco — cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and smokeless tobaccos like chewing tobacco and snuff. What’s more, using both tobacco and alcohol puts you at greater risk than either of these habits alone.
Depending on where the cancer occurs, other risks vary. A few examples are sun exposure (lip cancer), radiation to the head and neck (cancer of the sinuses or nasal cavity) and asbestos (cancer of the voice box). Chewing betel nut — a big health issue in some Asian cultures — causes oral cancer.
What can I do to avoid getting these cancers?
The short answer is simple. If you use tobacco, quit. If you drink too much, put a stop to that too. However, as many people know, this advice is easy to give and often much harder to follow.
“Tobacco and alcohol can be powerful addictions,” says Dr. Jan Cook, Medical Director of Innovation & Leadership at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “Willpower alone is rarely enough to end them. Usually a combination of approaches works best.”
• Make a list of great reasons to quit. Smoking is not only unhealthy for you, but second-hand smoke can also ruin the health of those around you — your children, spouse and friends will thank you for quitting. Fewer wrinkles and sweeter breath are also plusses, as are the financial benefits. Calculate your savings at www.smokefree.gov/savings-future.aspx and map out ways to enjoy that cash.
• Identify triggers — do you light up after meals or when you’re bored? Think ahead about ways to avoid or squelch those cravings.
• Talk to your doctor about tools to help you quit like nicotine replacement products (nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, inhaler or spray) and medicines that help ease cravings.
• See if your employer sponsors a free or low-fee program to help you quit. Your health plan may be a great resource as well.
• The National Cancer Institute Quit Line or Smokefree.gov can also be helpful. They offer a step-by-step approach to thinking about quitting, preparing to quit, quitting — and staying quit.
• Ask family, friends and co-workers to support your efforts by cheering you on, sharing hard-earned tips if they’ve quit and not smoking around you. Joining an online or in-person support group helps, too.
• Start by asking questions: How much and how often do you drink? The American Cancer Society defines low to moderate use of alcohol as one to two drinks a day for a man or one drink a day for a woman. Has your drinking been harmful in any way? For instance, has it jeopardized your health or your job? Talk to your doctor or check online for quizzes to help you assess your drinking habits and get information on cutting back or stopping.
• Consider joining a self-help group. Best known is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which outlines a 12-step program for its members to follow and offers plenty of support. An alternative is SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training), a nonprofit, non-spiritual group focusing on a range of addictive behaviors. Family members may find Al-Anon or Alateen helpful.
• Seek counseling from a substance abuse professional if you cannot stop drinking or need additional support.
• Ask your doctor if medicines might help. Medication can often help ease withdrawal symptoms, block the high from alcohol, defuse cravings or relieve depression or anxiety.
• Heavy drinkers require a specialized, intensive program, including detoxing to get alcohol out of the body. Be sure to consult your doctor.