Teenage Smoking Has Increased

Many of America’s teens smoke cigarettes as well as use smokeless tobacco, and the tobacco industry’s marketing fuels their addiction, says the first U.S. surgeon general’s report on youth tobacco use since 1994.  “The numbers are really shocking,” Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said in an interview, citing data in the report that nearly one in four high school seniors and one in three young adults under age 26 smoke despite a half-century of federal warnings about tobacco.  “It’s a problem we have to solve,” Benjamin said, calling it a “pediatric epidemic” in need of greater public action. She said one of every three young smokers will quit and one of the others will die from tobacco-related causes. She said adolescents, because their bodies are developing, are more susceptible than adults to nicotine’s addictiveness and tobacco’s damage to hearts and lungs.

Another factor, experts say, is the industry’s successful opposition to state tobacco tax increases, which the report credits as an effective way to fight smoking.

The voluminous report finds that progress in reducing youth cigarette smoking — quite dramatic from 1997 to 2003 — has slowed in recent years. It says more high school students are using smokeless tobacco and many (at least half of white and Hispanic male tobacco users and nearly half of Hispanic female users) both smoke and chew tobacco.

The report concludes that the tobacco industry’s $10 billion in annual marketing, some of it in promotions to reduce prices, encourages young people to begin and continue their tobacco use.

“Tobacco marketing is a big cause of the problem,” said Danny McGoldrick of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, citing his group’s report this week on the industry’s partnerships with convenience stores to prominently advertise and display tobacco products.

According to Ken Garcia of Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest tobacco company about half the price of a pack of cigarettes is state and federal taxes, and states have not used much of the industry funds they’ve received via a national settlement in 1998 to curb teen use of tobacco.

With the recession and cutbacks in the federal and state budgets, there might be a reluctance to cut into the taxes received from tobacco products.