Monday, December 15, 2014

Youth Tobacco Use

The dangers of tobacco use are well documented and widely understood. A recent article in PLoS Medicine adds just one more data point to the argument against cigarette smoking: in Asia, where smoking is more widespread than in the United States, approximately two million premature deaths in recent years can be attributed to cigarette use. Victims generally died of cancer, cardiovascular disease, or respiratory disease. Men who had a history of smoking were nearly twice as likely to die from cancer as men who had never smoked and were fifty percent more likely to die from respiratory diseases.

According to the Center for Disease Control , cigarette use among youth in the United States has seen encouraging declines in recent years. It is particularly important to track rates of tobacco use among young people because nearly all adult smokers begin using tobacco during their youths. CDC surveys show that nine of out ten adult smokers began using cigarettes by the time they were 18 years old, and 99% of smokers had begun smoking by age 26.

Cigarette smoking among youth declined between 2000 and 2011, which is certainly a positive trend. However, the use of electronic cigarettes, a product whose advisability is hotly debated among health care professionals, and which are often manufactured in China without oversight as to safety issues, doubled between 2011 and 2012. During that same period, hookah use among high school-aged youth increased as well. In 2012, the most recent year for which data were available, 6.7% of middle school students and 23.3% of high school students used tobacco products.

Declines in cigarette use are certainly good news, but the risks that accompany tobacco use are frightening enough that parents, teachers, and mentors must continue to work with physicians to ensure that teens understand them. Resources are available through the Surgeon General, including conversation cards for parents and doctors to guide talks with young people about tobacco. Adults can also help by reporting sales of tobacco to underage customers, which is illegal in every state; consumers who witness an illegal tobacco sale in New York, which includes sale of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to minors or sale of loose cigarettes, should call 1-800-458-1158.

Photo credit: Wlodi via Flickr CC

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