When it comes to bringing up our kids, there’s no denying that parents can choose whether or not to be an active part of their lives. With this in mind, researchers have found that parents are not only important factors in a child’s decision to experiment with tobacco, but their presence may determine if they’ll continue to smoke, as well.

A study, published in the journal, Pediatrics, has determined that parents can play either a positive or negative role in regards to teenage tobacco use. The key, it appears, lies in effective communication. If the goal for parents is to discourage their kids from smoking, it is especially important to relay this fact and establish proper rules and expectations in the household.

And, of course, there is the critical issue of practicing what we preach and setting the proper example. Parents can thus help reduce the chance that their kids will smoke by not smoking themselves. When parents smoke, not only do they provide access to the cigarettes, but it sends the message that, even if it’s bad for you, mom and dad are doing it, so it can’t be that bad.

In the study in question, researchers performed annual interviews with 270 adolescents from the 7th through 12th grades. Students were identified as occasional smokers if they smoked but had not reached the stage of smoking every day. By the time they were seniors in high school, 58% of them had become regular, daily smokers.

The authors stated that other important factors that may contribute to teen smoking included peer influence (i.e., having friends who smoked), truancy, belligerence with other kids, and vandalism. They also indicate that most smoking prevention programs do not adequately address the role that parental involvement has on smoking and bad behavior, both of which seem to go hand in hand.

The take home message is that parents are still an important part of their children’s lives, especially in regards to knowing the difference between right and wrong. While the current trend is to let teens work things out on their own, this does not preclude parental involvement. If anything, it is a critical time for the advice, feedback and oversight of an adult. So, parents should not take it lightly when their teenagers experiment with smoking, because even occasional use of tobacco can lead to regular smoking.

As far as bad habits go, smoking ranks up there at the top. In addition to smelling bad and substantial expense, cigarettes are just plain bad for you. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use is the single more preventable cause of death, disability, and disease in this country. For every person that dies from smoking, at least 20 more people suffer from some sort of tobacco related illness. Even in light of these serious consequences, 43.4 million adults in this country smoke.

So if you smoke, set a good example to your kids and quit. And keep open communication with them about the fact that they should never start.

For more information, check out the website for the CDC and the American Lung Association.