REVIEW: New Report from Surgeon General on Youth Smoking

March 12, 2012

REVIEW: New Report from Surgeon General on Youth Smoking

Smoking harms health from the very first puff. Learn more.You have to go back to 1994, seemingly a lifetime ago, to find the last comprehensive report conducted by the U.S. government on youth and smoking, and since then the nation has come a long way. In 1998, the Attorneys General of 46 U.S. States oversaw the Master Settlement Agreement, a landmark legal agreement that stifled big tobacco from many of its predatory practices including billboard advertisements and advertising campaigns directed specifically at youth (remember Joe Camel?). In addition, this settlement required these tobacco companies to release internal documents which exposed the sinister level or predatory marketing they had engaged in since the mid-20th century. Most teens and young adults today will not remember tobacco before the Master Settlement Agreement, which, one would hope, has reduced the number of young people using cigarettes and tobacco products over the past 15 years. However, though the numbers of youth smoking today (19.5%) has greatly reduced since that last report in 1994 (27.5%) the decline in numbers has slowed significantly and even stopping in some instances, which was the impetus for this new campaign. Dr. Benjamin’s Mission The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, has made it her mission to stop youth smoking for this generation. Armed with the details of this new, 920-page report, Dr. Benjamin has begun an ad campaign online, on television and in schools to help get the word out about the long-term dangers of smoking in youth. Her PSA video, which was launched on YouTube last week, is below: The Report’s Major Findings In addition to Dr. Benjamin’s mission, the whole of her report: “Preventing Tobacco Use among Youth and Young Adults” has come to some startling conclusions that all parents and educators should know. In the report’s Executive Summary, a telling message from U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, reminds us of the daunting numbers of smokers in the U.S. today. She states: Each day in the United States, over 3,800 young people under 18 years of age smoke their first cigarette, and over 1,000 youth under age 18 become daily cigarette smokers. The vast majority of Americans who begin daily smoking during adolescence are addicted to nicotine by young adulthood. (2012, p. 3). In addition, the major findings of the Surgeon General’s report are as follows:
  1. Cigarette smoking can have immediate negative effects on one’s health which included addiction and the development of chronic disease.
  2. The focus of prevention efforts need to be put upon young adults and adolescents. Fully 88% of all adult smokes had their first cigarette before age 18, whereas 99% of all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 26.
  3. Tobacco advertising campaigns continue to have a major effect on the decision to smoke for adolescents and young adults.
  4. Despite the major decline youth in smoking since 1994, the rate of decrease has slowed significantly in recent years for smoking and stopped for the use of smokless tobacco.
  5. Coordinated programs designed to halt or reduce the degree of smoking in youth have been effective when approached from a multichannel perspective. This includes price increases, mass media campaigns, smoke-free public spaces, and school-based awareness and prevention programs.
Keep these Numbers in Mind While the pressures of the recessed economy and increased academic standards have redefined our school systems since that last report in 1994, we should not allow it to stall our mission and our obligation as educators to prevent youth smoking and recognize it for the dangerous and deadly habit that it is. As the Director for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas R. Friedman explains, “Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for approximately 443,000 deaths, or about 1 of every 5 deaths, in the United States each year” (2012, p. 7)



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