Report: Work needed to curb youth tobacco use
More than 80% of smokers begin by age 18, surgeon general’s office says
RICHMOND | More work needs to be done to keep young Americans from using tobacco, including creating smoking bans and increasing taxes on tobacco products, the U.S. surgeon general’s office said in a report released Thursday.
Almost 1 in 5 high-school-age teens smokes, down from earlier decades, but the rate of decline has slowed, the report said.
The report says it’s particularly important to stop young people from using tobacco because those who start smoking as teenagers increase their chances of long-term addiction. They also quickly can experience reduced lung function, impaired lung growth, early heart disease and other health problems such as asthma.
More than 80 percent of smokers begin by age 18 and 99 percent of adult smokers in the U.S. start by age 26, according to the 920-page report, which is the first comprehensive look at youth tobacco use from the surgeon general’s office in nearly two decades.
“In order to end this epidemic, we need to focus on where we can prevent it and where we can see the most effect, and that’s with young people,” said the surgeon general, Dr. Regina M. Benjamin. “We want to make our next generation tobacco-free, and I think we can.”
The report details youth tobacco use, health impacts, and tobacco marketing and prevention efforts in the U.S. Officials hope the information will reinvigorate anti-tobacco efforts and spark public activism in reducing death and disease caused by tobacco use.
Dr. Benjamin said she did not want to point fingers on why youth tobacco use continues in the U.S., though the report also examined advertising and promotional activities by tobacco companies, which have been shown to “cause the onset and continuation of smoking among adolescents and young adults.”
“I don’t want to focus on blame, I want to focus on prevention,” she said. “I want to make sure we’re doing everything that we can to prevent kids from ever starting to smoke or use tobacco products.”
The report also recommended antismoking campaigns and increased restrictions under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authority to regulate tobacco as other ways to prevent adolescents and young adults from using tobacco products.
The surgeon general’s office last issued a report on youth tobacco use in 1994, the first wide-ranging report on the topic by federal health officials. The new report is the 31st issued by U.S. surgeons general to warn the public about tobacco’s risks. The first report in 1964 declared tobacco to be deadly.
Since the 1994 report, smoking among high school students has declined from 27.5 percent to 19.5 percent, or about 3 million students, but the rate of decline has slowed in recent years. About 5.2 percent, or 600,000, middle school students also are current smokers.
According to the report, every day in the U.S., more than 3,800 people younger than 18 smoke their first cigarette and more than 1,000 of them become daily smokers. They replace the 1,200 people who die each day in the U.S. from smoking.