Re­port: Work needed to curb youth to­bacco use

More than 80% of smok­ers be­gin by age 18, sur­geon gen­eral’s of­fice says

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY MICHAEL FELBERBAUM

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.

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