Surgeon General’s Report Calls Youth Smoking an ‘Epidemic’
Article date: March 13, 2012
By Stacy Simon
Every day, more than 3,800 children in the United States smoke their first cigarette, according to a new report from the US Surgeon General, putting themselves at risk for nicotine addiction and the many diseases associated with smoking. The report details tobacco use and health consequences among Americans under 18, as well as tobacco marketing and prevention efforts.
The Surgeon General’s last comprehensive report on youth and tobacco in 1994 concluded that if young people can remain free of tobacco until 18, most will never start smoking. Since then, cigarette smoking among adolescents and young adults has declined, but that decline has slowed since 2007.
Among the key statistics in the new report:
• More than 3 million high school students and 600,000 middle school students smoke
• One out of 4 high school seniors is a regular cigarette smoker
• About 80% of high school smokers will continue to smoke into adulthood
• Among those who continue to smoke, about half will die earlier than their non-smoking peers, losing on average about 13 years of life
• 88% of adults who smoke daily started smoking by age 18; 99% started by age 26
• Of the more than 3,000 children who smoke their first cigarette each day, more than 1,000 of them will become daily smokers
Tobacco advertising and youth
The report details past successes in lowering youth tobacco use, but concludes that more must still be done. The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco companies eliminated cigarette billboard advertising and print advertising directed to underage youth, and implemented a nationwide youth anti-smoking campaign. In 2009, Congress gave the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products in order to promote the public’s health.
Despite these efforts, the report says tobacco companies still spent almost $10 billion to market cigarettes in 2008 – 48% more than they spent in 1998, the year of the Master Settlement Agreement. The report says most of the marketing was aimed at reducing the price of cigarettes, which makes them more attractive to adolescents.
The surgeon general’s office says smoking causes immediate damage to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Teenagers and young adults can become addicted to nicotine, which leads to continued tobacco use into adulthood. Chronic diseases associated with tobacco, such as lung cancer, are more likely among those who begin to smoke earlier in life.
Comprehensive quit-smoking programs that combine mass media campaigns, price increases, school-based policies and programs, and community smoke-free policies have been shown to be effective in reducing the smoking in youth, according to the report.
The American Cancer Society’s advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) calls for increases in tobacco taxes to encourage smokers to quit and to discourage others (especially youth) from starting; laws that ban smoking in all bars, restaurants and workplaces; and funding for state cancer prevention and quit-smoking programs.
“This report highlights the urgent need to employ proven methods nationwide that prevent young people from smoking and encourage all smokers to quit, including passage of smoke-free laws, increases in tobacco excise taxes and fully funded tobacco prevention programs,” said John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society and ACS CAN. “The report is evidence that strong implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which grants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate the manufacture, sale and marketing of tobacco products, is vital to stopping the influential marketing messages being delivered to teens on a daily basis by Big Tobacco.”
“Combating tobacco use requires a multi-pronged approach that includes strong federal regulation, higher tobacco excise taxes, comprehensive smoke-free laws, sustained public education campaigns, school-based policies and programs, and strong tobacco prevention and cessation programs,” said Christopher W. Hansen, president of ACS CAN. “Today’s report shows that despite tough budget times, it is critical that states fund evidence-based tobacco control programs, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Best Practice recommendations.”
Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes.
The American Cancer Society’s Guide to Quitting Smoking has many tools and tips to help smokers beat the urge to smoke and to help nonsmokers encourage loved ones to quit.
Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff
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