Anybody who is over the age of 3 knows that smoking is bad for you. It’s not only a smelly and offensive habit (ever have to inhale what others exhale in your face?), but is the cause of many serious health problems. You would think that over a couple of decades everyone would get the message, but according to a new report issued by the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, too many teens still seem to think that smoking is no big deal.
The U.S. Surgeon General has released the first report on youth smoking since 1994 and it shows that although smoking is down from previous decades, almost one in five high school students smoke. Because few high school smokers are able to quit, some 80 percent will continue to smoke as adults, according to the report released on Thursday.
Whether they can’t quit, or just don’t want to quit, is probably debatable. Adults have the same problem. It’s hard- but doable.
Nicotine is very addictive, and that’s one of the report’s main concerns.
"Today, more than 600,000 middle school students and 3 million high school students smoke. We don't want our children to start something now that they won't be able to change later in life," Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin said in the report, which details the scope, health consequences and influences that lead to youth tobacco use.
An estimated 3,800 kids pick up their first cigarette every day and 9 in 10 current smokers started before the age of 18. Some 99 percent of all first-time tobacco use happens by the age of 26, exposing young people to the long-term health effects of smoking, such as lung cancer and heart disease.
The report also noted that smoking kills more than 1,200 people every day and every tobacco related death is replaced by two new smokers under the age of 25.
Education, intervention and early treatment are recommended as ways to help prevent or decrease the adolescent smoking habit. "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," John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said in a statement.
The report criticized tobacco companies targeting teens in their advertising. The report states that the industry spends more than $1 million an hour -- over $27 million per day -- in marketing and promoting tobacco products. Appealing smoking messages, aimed at adolescents, are displayed in retail stores, online and through various media outlets such as movies and music videos.
"Targeted marketing encourages more young people to take up this deadly addiction every day," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "This administration is committed to doing everything we can do to prevent our children from using tobacco."
Tobacco companies responded quickly and defended their practices. Altria Group, parent of companies Philip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco and John Middleton, said it markets to adults who use to tobacco through age-verified direct communications and in retail stores.
"The vast majority of our marketing expenditures come in the form of price promotions," the company said in a statement.
Altria said its tobacco companies worked to help enact the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, noting it was one of the few tobacco companies that did.
"We can and must continue to do more to accelerate the decline in youth tobacco use," Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at HHS said in a statement. "Until we end the tobacco epidemic, more young people will become addicted, more people will die and more families will be devastated by the suffering and loss of loved ones."
The report also recommended anti-smoking 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.
Benjamin did not point fingers on why youth tobacco use continues in the U.S. Instead, she wants to see how the nation as a whole can best address the issue, she said.
"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
More regulations and higher cigarette taxes may or may not help reduce teen smoking… that remains to be seen. But one anti-smoking effort that does have a positive effect on lessening teen smoking is growing up in a non-smoking home. Family discussions and good parenting examples leave a lasting impression on little ones who eventually become teens. Raising a child who feels secure in their environment helps them stand up to peer-pressure -which is really one of the main reasons kids start smoking.
When the teen years start producing an interest in the opposite sex, it doesn’t hurt to remind your teen that kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray. That leaves a lasting impression.