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Peer pressure is one of the main reasons why young people start smoking, in spite of all the education they’ve received about how dangerous smoking is for your body and for the people around you. As a result, more and more experts are recommending that refusal skills specific to being pressured to smoke be taught and practiced with young people, starting by middle school.

Below are some examples of tobacco refusal skills. Some of the names of the tactics used are originally from the excellent book How to Say No and Keep Your Friends: Peer Pressure Reversal for Teens and Preteens by Sharon Scott, who has given permission to Kidpower to incorporate ideas from her books into our program. Her system of teaching peer pressure refusal skills is well-thought out and useful. I’ve added two other tactics she recommends: Make a Joke and Use Flattery.

1. Say “No Thanks”

Less effective:
Offer: “Hey, you want a smoke?”
Response: “Uh, well … I don’t think so.”

More Effective:
Offer: “Hey, you want a smoke?”
Response: “No thanks.”

2. Walk Away

Offer: “Hey, you want a smoke?”
Response: “No thanks.”
Offer: “Come on. Just take a puff.”
Response: “I don’t want to.”
Offer: “It’s real cool. Just try it!”
Response: “I said No.” (turn and leave with head up and back straight)

3. Be a Broken Record

Offer: “Hey, you want a smoke?”
Response: “I don’t smoke.”
Offer: “Just one puff – it won’t hurt you!”
Response: “I don’t smoke.”
Offer: “Is that all you can say?”
Response: “Yes, because I said I don’t smoke!”
Offer: “Okay, okay. I get the message.”

4. Give an Excuse

Offer: “Hey, you want a smoke?”
Response: “No way! I don’t want to get addicted.”

5. Have a Better Idea

Offer: “Hey, you want a smoke?”
Response: “I’ve got a better idea. Let’s go _____________.” (Insert a realistic activity appropriate to these youth.)

6. Make a Joke

Offer: “Hey, you want a smoke?”
Response: “Do you know the ‘REAL’ reason why dinosaurs became extinct? They smoked!”

7. Use Flattery/Turn the Tables

Offer: “Hey, you want a smoke?”
Response: “I care about you. Why would you want to endanger your health like that?”

Encourage young people to come up with their own tactics and language for refusing a friend. Coach them to be both respectful and powerful in how they communicate their boundaries.

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Published: March 20, 2012   |   Last Updated: June 20, 2016

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.