Surgeon General Warns About Youth Smoking
March 8, 2012

Surgeon General Warns About Youth Smoking

The Surgeon General released a report today alongside a campaign that addresses smoking among youth and young adults.

For every tobacco-related death, two people under the age 26 pick up the practice. That's the startling news outlined in today's report.

The report: "Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: We Can Make the Next Generation Tobacco-Free" is accompanied by a Surgeon General video released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health.

Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin identifies teens and young adults as a vulnerable group tempted by tobacco. "The addictive power of nicotine makes tobacco use much more than a passing phase for most teens. We now know smoking causes immediate physical damage, some of which is permanent," Dr. Benjamin said in a statement released by the CDC.

Urgency to address teens and young adults was first identified in 1994, when the Surgeon General released its first report on youth and tobacco use. Since then, the knowledge about tobacco use among youth, its prevention and challenges to cessation have been expanded. These new findings and tactics are identified in the report.

The numbers on smoking adoption among teens are staggering. Roughly 99 percent of all first use of tobacco occurs by the age of 26. However many smokers start while still in school. More than 600,000 middle school students and 3 million high school students smoke, according to the report. "We don't want our children to start something now that they won't be able to change later in life," Dr. Benjamin said.

Health risks associated with smoking are much greater when started at an early age. The report identifies the long-term risks for young smokers including cardiovascular damage and reduction of lung functionality, which can occur early in life for long-term smokers. One half of smokers who started as early adults are likely to die about 13 years earlier than nonsmoking peers.

Cigarette use is not under the umbrella of tobacco use among teens. The report finds that nearly one in five White adolescent males aged 12 to 17 uses smokeless tobacco and one in 10 young adults ages 18 to 25 smokes cigars. Further, many teens and young adults use more than one form of tobacco. In the report it states that over half of White and Hispanic male tobacco users report they use more than one tobacco product.

Steps taken to reduce the rate of smoking adoption among teens and young adults include the passage of Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control ACT (TCA). Under this act, the Food and Drug Administration have the authority to regulate tobacco products to prevent purchase and use by minors. Actions include age identification verification at retailers, restrictions on the sale of single cigarettes and a ban on certain candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes.

TCA activities also include support for state quit lines that provide counseling for smoking cessation. In addition, the government will also launch web and mobile-based interventions aimed to reach young people.

While the Surgeon General's campaign ramps up its own marketing, it looks at tobacco marketing, and its practice of targeting young adults. "Targeted marketing encourages more young people to take up its deadly addiction every day. This administration is committed to doing everything we can to prevent our children from using tobacco," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in a statement.

A video posted by the CDC on YouTube shows teens stating when they began smoking, and what their future holds. "At 15, I was addicted," says one teen. "By 40, I'll have lung disease," says another teen. In the video Surgeon General Dr. Benjamin urges people, including adults, to visit the CDC's site on tobacco to learn how to make the next generation tobacco free.

For most people, smoking is a lifelong addiction. As many as three out of four high school smokers continue to smoke into adulthood. To put it into different terms, as many as 88 percent of adult daily cigarette smokers report they started smoking by the age of 18, the report finds. The report and accompanying campaign hopes to curb those statistics.

"We can and must continue to do more to accelerate the decline in youth tobacco use," said Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the HHS office, in a statement. "Until we end the tobacco epidemic, more young people will become addicted, more people will die, and more families will be devastated by the suffering and loss of loved ones."


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