Transcript: Surgeon General Regina Benjamin says U.S. can end youth smoking epidemic
Transcript of remarks by Dr. Regina Benjamin, Surgeon General of the United States, on the 2012 report on underage tobacco use (March 8, 2012):
“Every Surgeon General since 1964 has weighed in on the issue of tobacco, and every one has called for an immediate action to solve this problem.
“Today’s release is the 31st Surgeon General’s report on tobacco – “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults.” And it reminds us once again that the burden of tobacco puts a heavy burden on society.
“The report challenges us to end the epidemic of smoking among young people. And the numbers in this report are shocking. You’ve heard some of them earlier but they’re worth repeating.
“Everyday, 1,200 Americans die from smoking, and each of those people are replaced by two young smokers. Almost 90% of those replacement smokers smoke their first cigarette before they’re 18.
“And despite all the reductions in tobacco use in the past decade, today more than 600,000 middle school students smoke and 3 million high school students smoke cigarettes.
“Also, nearly 1 in 3 young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 smoke. And this is the higher rate than other age group. So this is a serious public health issue.
“One of the most serious findings in this report is about nicotine addiction, and the younger they begin smoking, the younger they are to become addicted. Every year, 1.2 million youths under the age of 18 tried their first cigarette, and many of them end up being lifelong smokers.
“Cigarettes are designed for addiction, and nicotine is a key chemical compound that causes the powerful addicting effects of cigarettes.
“Added ingredients and design features make them even more attractive and more addictive than ever before. Many ingredients like sugar and moisture enhancers when they’re added they reduce the harshness and they improve the taste and consumer appeal. Chemical ingredients such as ammonia convert nicotine into what we call ‘free nicotine’ that more quickly crosses the brain barrier. And ventilation holes and filters make smoke easier to inhale deeply into the lungs and also convert the nicotine into ‘free nicotine.’ All these design features work together to enhance the addictive kick and the pleasure that smokers feel.
“And adolescents’ bodies are more sensitive to nicotine, and adolescents are more easily addicted than adults. This sort of helps explain why 1,000 teenagers become daily smokers, and 3 out of 4 high school students continue to smoke well into their adulthood even if they have attempted to quit in a few years.
“And there are also other tobacco products that youth find appealing. Some of the cigarette-sized cigars include fruit-flavored and candy-flavored things like strawberry and grape. And some of the latest smokeless tobacco products are spit-less and others dissolve like mints. Part of their appeal is that they can be used at school or at home in front of mom and dad even so that they can’t be detected and they might not even know their kids are using them. But understand that these products can also cause nicotine addiction, which can lead to serious disease and even death.
“This report also highlights some of the health effects. In addition to the increased risk for serious chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease and emphysema, there is a [sic] immediate damage to the heart and to the lungs. Studies show that many young smokers have early cardiovascular damage, particularly early atherosclerotic changes in the aorta. That puts them at higher risk for aortic dissections, and they tend to die very young. Smoking through adolescence slows the development of the lung function, and teens who smoke can end up as adults with lungs that never reach their full functioning capacity.
“Another finding in this report is that marketing and advertising of tobacco products to young people have been very successful. In this report, scientists use epidemiological studies and evidence to show causality. The more the youth is exposed to marketing and advertisement, the more likely they are to start and maintain smoking.
“In the United States alone, more than $1 million an hour, over $27 million a day, is spent on targeting messages and images to portray smoking as an acceptable and appealing activity.
“We know that prevention is the key. 99% of smokers begin smoking before the age of 25. So we want to prevent our next generation from ever starting to smoke. If we can just get them to remain smoke free ’til they’re 26, then less than 1% of them will ever start.
“We know it works. We know that when we enact smoke-free policies we reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, prompt smokers to quit, change social norms, and support healthy decisions. We know that when we increase the price of tobacco smoking rates decline among youth. We also know that when we educate the public with aggressive media campaigns we inform them of the risk, encourage tobacco users to quit, and prevent youth from starting to smoke.
“And science tells us that sustained, multi-component programs prevent young people from starting to use tobacco. We saw this approach in New York City when they cut their youth smoking in half in as little as 6 years.
“We have implemented these types of comprehensive tobacco programs in the past and we saw a steady decline in the rate of youth use between 1997 to 2003. Had we maintained that course, we could have prevented 3 million smokers. We need to bring back that level of commitment – bring it back to programs today.
“It’s time for us to really end the single most preventable cause of death in this nation. As you can see, we’re committed to say we can make our next generation tobacco-free.”
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Assistant Sec. Howard Koh warns growing underage tobacco use imposes heavy burden on U.S. health system
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Surgeon General Regina Benjamin says U.S. can end youth smoking epidemic
- Department of Health and Human Services: Surgeon General’s report on “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults” (PDF)
- Department of Health and Human Services: Surgeon General’s 2012 report on “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults” – executive summary (PDF)