The United States has made enormous progress in reducing youth smoking with the smoking rate among high school students falling from a record high of 36.4 percent in 1997 to 18.1 in 2011. Nonetheless, tobacco use among youths and all Americans remains a serious problem.
Every day, nearly 1,000 U.S. kids become regular smokers and one third will die prematurely as a result. A 2012 U.S. Surgeon’s report — Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults — said that more than 3.6 million middle and high school students will smoke. It called youth tobacco use a “pediatric epidemic” that immediately harms children’s health and puts them on a path to debilitating diseases and premature death.
Louis Eubanks, executive director of S.C. Tobacco-Free Collaborative and executive director of S.C. Cancer Alliance, has agreed to discuss tobacco related issues, the usual suspects, new villains, emerging threats, and promote cessation.
“The 2012 Surgeon General’s report concluded that tobacco marketing causes kids to start and continue using tobacco products. Tobacco companies spend $8.5 billion a year to promote deadly and addictive products, according to the Federal Trade Commission,” said Eubanks.
The report highlights tobacco threats to kids today:
The Usual Suspects: The tobacco industry targets kids with marketing for cigarettes and smokeless tobacco and unfortunately this works. Among youth smokers, 85.8 percent prefer Marlboro, Camel and Newport, which are three of the most heavily used cigarette brands.
New Villains: Tobacco companies have introduced cheap, sweet and colorfully packaged small cigars that entice kids. Many look like cigarettes, and they come in candy and fruit flavors with cheap prices. With their colorful packaging and sweet flavors, these cigar products can be hard to distinguish from candy displays near which they are sometimes placed. They are taxed lower rates than cigarettes and can be sold individually or small packs.
Emerging Effects: Tobacco companies are also marketing novel smokeless tobacco products that look like breath mints, teabags and toothpicks.They are tobacco in disguise. These products are indicative and easy for kids to hide. The teabag-like smokeless tobacco products, called snus, bear the names Marlboro and Camel. Camel snus are sold in colorful tins and have been marketed with elaborate ads in magazines and newspapers. These products come in flavors such as spearmint and “winter chill.” Also introduced, an array of novel smokeless tobacco products, Camel Sticks, Strips or Orbs, which look like toothpicks. Breath strips and breathe mints are available in candy-like packaging. Kids dissolve the mints which could be used without detection at school or even at home. Philip Morris is test-marketing “smokeless tobacco sticks” that look like chocolate- covered toothpicks.
These products appear so different from traditional smokeless tobacco products and are so easily concealed that kids could be using them without parents or teachers realizing the use of tobacco.
Researchers at the Disease Control and Prevention show an increase in awareness and use of electronic cigarettes, which are not currently regulated by any government agency to protect public health. Due to the lack of regulation, no one knows how much nicotine and other substances are in the different e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes use nearly doubled between 2011 and 2012 for middle-school students, from 0.6 to 16.7 percent.
E-cigarettes makers advertise on television, something traditional cigarettes makers have been banned from doing since 1971. Are they safe? In terms of e-cigarettes, there is not a lot of information on the long-term health impact. There is anecdotal evidence that some people use them to quit smoking cigarettes or cigars that can be a problem because there is no evidence that nicotine, however it may be absorbed, may adversely affect brain development among youth.
In a statement, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said that while it was troubling that the rate of cigarette use remains stagnant, it is even more disconcerting that teenagers are increasingly turning to other products that are produced and sold without any federal oversight.
The general message is that any of these products are not appropriate for use. None of these emerging products are safe alternatives to traditional cigarette use, and efforts should be made to get kids to stop their use so we don’t have a next generation of tobacco-addicted adults.
The cigarette companies continue to grow and prosper. They report after-tax profits of $7.2 trillion. These profits have come with cost. Tobacco related health care costs in the United States alone are $81 billion. In fact, cigarette smoking is the most devastating and preventable cause of disease and premature death in world history. One out of every five people living in the industrial world will die early because of tobacco. The World Health Organization reports that worldwide, tobacco will kill one in every two users. The world-wide death toll from tobacco is about 3 million people each year. This toll will rise as the tobacco industry aggressively expands advertising.