New Surgeon General's Report Calls on New England to Make the Next Generation Tobacco-Free

(March 8, 2012)

Almost 50 years after the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on tobacco, Dr. Regina Benjamin, United States Surgeon General, released a new report and called on the nation to make the next generation tobacco-free. According to the report,  Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, far too many youth and young adults are using tobacco. Today more than 600,000 middle school students and 3 million high school students smoke cigarettes.

Each day more than 1,200 people die due to smoking.  For every one of those deaths, at least two new youths or young adults become regular smokers.  And 90 percent of these replacement smokers smoke their first cigarette before they turn age 18. Nationwide, declines in the use of tobacco by youth and young adults have slowed for cigarette smoking and stalled for smokeless tobacco use after years of steady progress.

The comprehensive report provides further scientific evidence on young people’s sensitivity to nicotine. The younger they are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to get addicted and the more heavily addicted they will become. Nicotine addiction will cause about 3 out of four teens to smoke into adulthood, even if they intend to quit after a few years.

The report finds that tobacco marketing is a key factor in causing young people to start using tobacco, and nicotine addiction keeps them using it.  More than $1 million an hour is spent on marketing tobacco products in this country--and 99% of all new smokers come from youth and young adult populations who are enticed to smoke by this marketing. Tobacco companies say their marketing only promotes brand choices among adult smokers –but regardless of intent, it encourages underage youth to smoke. 

The more young people are exposed to cigarette advertising and promotional activities, the more likely they are to smoke.  The report shows tobacco advertising and promotion encourages the myth that smoking makes and keeps you thin.  This message is especially appealing to young girls.  This report concludes that teen smokers are not thinner than non-smokers.

Images in tobacco marketing make tobacco use look appealing to young people, who want to fit in with their peers.  Kids and teens see smoking in their social circles, movies they watch, video games they play, Web sites they visit, and many communities where they live.  Smoking is often portrayed as a normal, acceptable, even appealing activity; young people exposed to these images are more likely to smoke.   And in 2010, nearly a third of top-grossing movies for children – those with G, PG, or PG-13 ratings – contained images of tobacco use. The report concludes that smoking in movies causes youth to start smoking.

“The evidence in the new Surgeon General’s report clearly demonstrates the need for intensified and sustained efforts to prevent our young people from using tobacco,” said Ed Miller, Senior VP of Health Promotion and Public Policy for the American Lung Association of New England. “We know what works: comprehensive efforts that include mass media campaigns, 100 percent smoke-free laws in restaurants, bars and worksites, high cigarette prices, evidence-based school programs, and sustained community-wide efforts. We must redouble our efforts to protect the young people in New England.”

While the long-term health effects of tobacco use are well-known, this report concludes that smoking early in life has substantial health risks that begin almost immediately--even for youth and young adults.  For heart disease, we see early damage in most young smokers and those most sensitive die very young.  Smoking during youth and adolescence slows down lung growth.  Teens who smoke are not only short of breath today – they may end up as adults with lungs that never reach their full capacity.  That damage is permanent.

For online copies of the full Surgeon Generals’s report, executive summary, and an easy-to-read guide on tobacco use and young people, visit


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About the American Lung Association of New England

The American Lung Association of New England is part of the American Lung Association, the oldest voluntary health organization in the U.S. Established in 1904 to combat tuberculosis; our mission today is to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. The focus is on air quality, asthma, tobacco control, and all lung disease. ALANE serves CT, MA, ME, NH, RI and VT.