Teenage smoking rates ‘shocking,’ says US Surgeon General


A "shocking" number of American teens smoke cigarettes and use smokeless tobacco, with the tobacco industry's marketing only fueling their addiction, the US surgeon general said in the first-such report on youth tobacco use since 1994.

The report released Thursday by the office of Surgeon General Regina Benjamin that showed nearly one in four high school seniors and one in three young adults under age 26 smoked, USA Today reported.

The report said adolescents, because their bodies were developing, were also more susceptible than adults to nicotine's addictiveness and the damage tobacco caused to hearts and lungs.

According to the Washington Post, the 899-page report warned that smoking during the teenage years stunted lung growth and accelerated the decline in lung function the same way aging does.

The habit also damaged blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and aortic rupture.

Meanwhile, despite a public health campaign that caused a marked drop in teenage smoking after 1998, tobacco use was now increasing in some groups and categories: smokeless tobacco use was up among white high school-age boys, and cigar smoking was up among black high school girls. 

Despite a half-century of federal warnings about tobacco, Benjamin said: "Two people start smoking for every one who dies from the habit each year.. Almost 90 percent of those ‘replacement smokers’ first try tobacco before they are 18."

"The numbers are really shocking," Benjamin told USA Today in an interview. 

She said only one in every three young smokers would quit, and one of the others would die from tobacco-related causes.

Benjamin said more work needed to be done to keep young Americans from using tobacco, such as tougher smoking bans and increased taxes on tobacco products.

"In order to end this epidemic, we need to focus on where we can prevent it and where we can see the most effect, and that's with young people," Benjamin said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We want to make our next generation tobacco-free, and I think we can."

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