Report: We Can Cut Youth Tobacco Use in Half

(March 9, 2012)

American Lung AssociationU.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin has released a new report on tobacco use, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, and its message is powerful: We can cut youth tobacco use in half in just six years – but only if U.S. states put in place policies and programs proven to reduce tobacco use.

Reality paints a tragic picture. According to the report, the failure of states to adequately invest in tobacco control has resulted in three million new youth and young adult smokers, a third of whom will ultimately die from their addiction.

Young smokers – severe risks

Why is it so important to reduce tobacco use by young people? Because starting to use tobacco as a kid will lead to damage to their health that is permanent and severe. This 31st Report finds that the health of young adults can be affected much earlier than previously reported. When young people smoke, they cause early and permanent damage to their lungs –s tunting the growth of their lungs and increasing their risk for developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the third leading cause of death in the US. Tobacco use also causes heart disease and lung cancer, the leading cause of death among all types of cancer.

Much like the first Surgeon General’s Report on smoking issued 48 years ago, this report provides powerful scientific evidence that action is needed to reduce the number one cause of preventable disease in the US. Unlike that 1964 Surgeon General’s report, however, today’s report is clear on what steps must be taken to reduce tobacco use in the US.

States failing to protect kids

According to the report, more than 600,000 middle school and 3 million high school students smoke. Much of this is because states have not invested enough in comprehensive prevention and cessation programs that were in place between 1997 and 2003.

In January, the Lung Association released its annual State of Tobacco Control report which found that virtually every state is failing to fund tobacco control programs at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can check on your state here.

It’s ironic that many states blame tight budgets to justify cutting back on tobacco prevention programs, when these same programs actually save states money. For example, a recent study showed that Washington State saved $5 in tobacco-related hospitalization costs for every $1 it spent on tobacco prevention programs from 2000-2009. Preventing tobacco use saves money and lives!

Tobacco industry preys on youth

At the same time states are cutting back, the Surgeon General found that the tobacco industry is spending over $1 million dollars per hour on marketing, and finding new ways to target kids, such as creating candy-flavored products and offering price promotions that reduce the cost of products aimed at kids. And their efforts are working.

“Sadly this report finds that for every smoker who dies each day from tobacco-related disease, they are replaced by two new, younger smokers,” said American Lung Association President and CEO Charles D. Connor. “This is a wakeup call to all policymakers and community leaders that tobacco addiction is a vicious and deadly cycle that can and must come to an end.”

“But there is good news: evidence shows that if we work together to implement comprehensive, science-based tobacco prevention and cessation policies, we can protect America’s youth and young adults from tobacco’s deadly addiction,” continued Connor.

You can help

Would you like to help cut youth tobacco use in half? There are a number of ways you can get involved in our fight against tobacco use, including joining our Lung Action Network, or by making a donation to further our fight for healthy lungs.

Need help quitting?

The American Lung Association has been successfully helping smokers quit for more than 30 years with its Freedom From Smoking® program, which provides a personalized step-by-step quit plan and is available as a face-to-face program or online (  The Lung Association offers the N-O-T (Not On Tobacco) program, designed to help teens quit smoking while addressing other related teen stressors. For assistance with quitting smoking or for additional questions about lung health, please call the American Lung Association’s Lung HelpLine at 1-800-548-8252.