Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and throughout the world, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. In the United states, the federal government has led anti-smoking campaigns for more than 40 years. But according to a new report from the U.S. Surgeon General, the nation's top health official, progress in preventing American teenagers and young adults from using tobacco has stalled.
The report is a tome - nearly 900 pages long. Its focus is on how to prevent tobacco use among teenagers and young adults.
Smoking among teens up
While the overall rate of tobacco use has drastically declined since the first surgeon general's report more than 40 years ago, this report shows that children as young as 10 are developing a deadly tobacco addiction. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin says the statistics are shocking. "Every day 1,200 Americans die from smoking. And each of those people are being replaced by two young smokers," she stated.
The goal is to end tobacco use among teens and young adults. Studies show that teenagers are much more vulnerable than adults to the addictive properties of nicotine, a drug found naturally in tobacco. And that tobacco use interferes with lung development.
More than 90 percent of adult smokers lit up their first cigarette before they turned 18. Many start the habit when they are in middle school, between 11 and 13 years old. "Today, more than 600,000 middle school students smoke, and three million high school students smoke cigarettes," Benjamin explained.
Studies also show that more than one in three young adults between the ages of 16 and 26 smoke. On the other hand, fewer than one percent of smokers start after the age of 26.
Anti-smoking campaign for youth
Dr. Benjamin outlined plans to launch a media campaign like this one aimed at youth. "I want our next generation to be tobacco-free," she said. "That's the goal, to have our next generation tobacco free."
Dr. Benjamin wants to involve parents and teachers and to refocus on community anti-smoking programs, including programs in schools.
Ads targeting teens, tobacco mimic candy
The report criticizes tobacco companies for advertising campaigns that target young people and for making products like tobacco candy.
It cites the effectiveness of placing higher sales taxes on tobacco products, which make them too costly for most teens to buy.
A U.S. Health Department spokesman said helping young people avoid tobacco addiction will cut the number of tobacco-related illnesses and premature deaths and spare more families the devastating emotional toll.