Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin has declared a war against tobacco, this time aiming to stop young people from starting to smoke, with the aim to have the next generation tobacco free. More than three million high school students are smokers, and smoking is now being called a pediatric epidemic the report said.
In her report entitled Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: We Can Make the Next Generation Tobacco-Free, she writes about the scope, health consequences and influences that lead young people to start smoking, whilst outlining proven strategies that ward young people away from tobacco.
Tobacco is the top cause of preventable and premature death, killing more than 1,200 Americans every day. For each smoking-related death, two new young people under the age of 26 become regular smokers. Nearly 90 percent of these new smokers try their first cigarette by age 18. Approximately 3 out of 4 high school smokers continue to smoke well into adulthood.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health will release the Surgeon General's Video Challenge, which invites young people to develop original videos that feature one or more of the report's findings. Details of the competition are at www.challenge.gov.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “Targeted marketing encourages more young people to take up this deadly addiction every day ... This administration is committed to doing everything we can to prevent our children from using tobacco.”
Melissa Stigler, a public health professor at the University of Texas, says the companies' favorite technique – the promotional price cut – is actually the most attractive to young people, because they're very sensitive to price. “A kid walking into a convenience store or a grocery store, it's the kind of advertising one sees as you comes up to the cash register, we call that point-of-purchase advertising, there are any number of promotions going on, so buy two get one free, things of that nature.” Stigler says the studies show that young people are also influenced simply by seeing smokers. This exposure can come at the movies, in video games, and in parks and restaurants.
The administration will adopt more ways including the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (TCA), which gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products to prevent use by minors. Other initiatives include quit lines, as well as web and mobile based services to help people quit.
The Obama administration began greater regulation of tobacco in 2009. Companies can no longer sell candy- or fruit-flavored cigarettes, because those appeal to the young. The administration is also looking into regulation of electronic cigarettes.
Dr. Benjamin said, “The addictive power of nicotine makes tobacco use much more than a passing phase for most teens. We now know smoking causes immediate physical damage, some of which is permanent ... 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.”
The report criticized tobacco companies for targeting youth, saying the industry spends more than $1 million an hour - over $27 million per day - in marketing and promoting tobacco products. According to the report, advertising messages that make smoking appealing to young people are widespread, and advertising for tobacco products is prominently displayed in retail stores and online.
Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at HHS said, “We can and must continue to do more to accelerate the decline in youth tobacco use ... 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.”
“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 parent company of Philip Morris, Altria, released a statement saying it agrees that kids shouldn't use tobacco products, and that it markets to adults using age verification. 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.