A "shocking" number of American teenagers smoke cigarettes and/or use smokeless tobacco, the first U.S. surgeon general's report on youth tobacco since 1994 has found. (Photo by Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images)
"The numbers are really shocking," Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said, noting the data show 1 in 4 high school seniors and 1 in 3 young adults under age 26 smoke. "It's a problem we have to solve."
Though there was dramatic progress in reducing youth smoking rates from 1997 to 2003, the 899-page report shows the decline has flattened. "Smokeless tobacco is up among white high school-age boys, and cigar smoking appears to be rising among black high school girls," reports David Brown for The Washington Post.
Data from the 2010 Kentucky Youth Tobacco Survey show that almost 25 percent of the state's high-school students are smokers. Although the prevalence of smoking among youth has declined in the past few years, the smoking prevalence among teenagers and young adults is higher than among other adult populations.
"Two people start smoking for every one who dies from the habit each year," Benjamin said. "Almost 90 percent of those 'replacement smokers' first try tobacco before they are 18."
The findings showed smoking can damage lung function at a very young age. One study of "nearly 700 children from East Boston found that those who started to smoke at age 15 exhaled 8 percent less air in one second — a key measure of lung function — than non-smoking teenagers. The growth of lung capacity stopped a year earlier in smokers — at 17 in girls and 19 in boys — than in non-smokers," Brown reports.
Another study showed how smoking affects the cardiovascular system. Researchers looked at autopsy results of white men ages 25 to 34 who were killed either by trauma or homicide. Smokers were two times as likely to have advanced damage of the abdominal aorta as non-smokers. "They also had somewhat greater damage to the blood vessel most often implicated in acute heart attacks," Brown reports.
Danny McGoldrick of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids told USA Today's Wendy Koch tobacco marketing "is a big cause of the problem." He pointed to his organization's report revealing the tobacco industry's relationship with convenience stores to blatantly advertise and display tobacco products.
The industry's success in fighting increases in tobacco-related taxes is considered to be another factor. But industry officials like Ken Garcia of Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, said "there's already quite a (tax) burden on adult smokers." (Read more)