New Surgeon General's Report Finds Rise in Youth Smoking
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In its first report on youth smoking since 1994, the U.S. Surgeon General's Office concluded that smoking among youths has increased, although U.S. smoking rates overall have continued to decline.
"Today, more than 600,000 middle-school students and three 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 wrote in the report.
The report states that an estimated 3,800 youths start smoking every day, and nine in 10 current smokers started before 18 years old. In addition, the report specifically called out advertising messages that make smoking appealing to young people, and prominently displayed advertising for tobacco products in retail stores and online.
"Targeted marketing encourages more young people to take up this deadly addiction every day," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a release. "This administration is committed to doing everything we can to prevent our children from using tobacco."
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg noted that this is the first Surgeon General's report on youth since the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was signed into law in 2009.
"As this report so clearly articulates, after years of steady progress, declines in the use of tobacco by youth and young adults have slowed for cigarette smoking and stalled for smokeless tobacco use," Hamburg said in a statement. "And this report makes it abundantly clear, young people are highly susceptible to tobacco advertising and marketing activities leading many youth to a lifetime of addiction coupled with serious health consequences."
For its part, tobacco manufacturer The Altria Group refuted the report's claims that advertising and marketing are appealing to youths.
"Altria's tobacco companies -- Philip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco and John Middleton -- market to adults who use tobacco. Altria's tobacco companies market in two ways: through age-verified direct communications to adult tobacco consumers and in retail stores where adult tobacco consumers make their purchase decisions. We do not use TV, newspapers, radio, billboards or product placement to advertise our products. The vast majority of our marketing expenditures come in the form of price promotions. It's important to note that the average price of a pack of cigarettes has increased by 78 percent from 2000 to 2010, the company said in a statement on its website.
"We agree with the Surgeon General and others that kids should not use tobacco products, and we share the common goal of keeping tobacco products out of the hands of kids. Tremendous progress has been made in reducing overall underage tobacco use, which is at its lowest level in a generation. In fact, today, underage smoking ranks lower than alcohol or marijuana use. We are encouraged by recent government data that show illegal retail tobacco sales to minors are at historic lows. While significant progress has been made in reducing underage tobacco use over time, we agree that more work needs to be done," the company added.
The Altria Group also pointed out that federal law mandates that cigarettes and smokeless tobacco be sold behind the counter through age-verified transactions and makes it illegal to sell tobacco to minors. All 50 state attorneys general have oversight on how cigarettes are marketed through the tobacco settlement agreements that were signed in the late 1990s.
"Even before the tobacco settlement agreements, our tobacco companies supported youth tobacco access prevention laws. Since that agreement gave the state attorneys general the authority to enforce its marketing provisions in 1998, not a single enforcement action has been brought against Philip Morris USA," The Altria Group said.