Stopping Youth Tobacco Use - Consumer Justice Foundation

Stopping Youth Tobacco Use

Written by Faith Anderson on March 8, 2012
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Smoking Puts Youth at Risk of Heart Disease and Impaired Lung Function

Although the prevalence of youth tobacco use is down from earlier decades – almost one in five high school-aged teens smokes – the rate of decline has slowed, said the report. The report said that it’s particularly important to stop young people from using tobacco because those who start smoking as teenagers can increase their chances of long-term tobacco addiction. They can also put themselves at risk of impaired lung growth, reduced lung function, asthma and even early heart disease. “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 Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. “We want to make our next generation tobacco-free, and I think we can.”

Surgeon General Focuses on Prevention Efforts

The surgeon general’s report also recommended anti-smoking campaigns and more stringent regulations under the FDA’s authority to regulate tobacco as other ways to prevent youths and young adults from using tobacco products. “I don’t want to focus on blame, I want to focus on prevention,” Benjamin 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 last report on youth tobacco use issued by the surgeon general’s office was released in 1994 and was the first wide-ranging report on the topic by federal health officials. Since the 1994 report, smoking among high school-aged students has declined from 27.5% to 19.5% (about three million students), but the rate of decline has slowed in recent years. Also, about 5.2%, or 600,000, middle school students are current smokers. “Too many of our children are addicted, too many cannot quit, and too many go on to die far too young,” said Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh in a news conference.

Tobacco Companies Want to Make Cigarettes More Affordable

The report also examined advertising and promotional efforts by tobacco companies, which have been shown to “cause the onset and continuation of smoking among adolescents and young adults.” Tobacco companies have devoted increasing amounts of money to marketing efforts to reduce prices, which health officials said could influence access to price-sensitive youth and make cigarettes more affordable. “Far too many kids still see smoking images and messages every day that normalize this dependence,” said Koh. “Kids see smoking in the movies they watch, the video games they play, the websites they visit and in the communities where they live.”

Dollars Spent on Cigarette Marketing on the Rise

In 2008, nearly $10 billion was spent on cigarette marketing by the nation’s biggest tobacco companies, a 48% increase from what was spent in 1998. In a recent statement, Altria Group Inc., parent company of the largest cigarette maker in the U.S., Philip Morris USA, which makes the top-selling Marlboro brand, said it agrees that youth shouldn’t use tobacco products and it markets its products to adult tobacco users at retails stores and through age-verified direct communications. “We have come a long way since the days of smoking on airplanes and in college classrooms, but we have a long way to go,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Kathleen Sebelius. “The prosperity and health of our nation depend on it.” 

Posted Under: United States
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