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U.S. Surgeon General: Young Adults are "Prime Targets" for Tobacco Advertising and Marketing


Statement from Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, President and CEO

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin – the leading authority on public health in the United States –  released a report providing the most current and comprehensive analysis of tobacco's impact on our nation's young people. Drawing on research from a number of disciplines, the report examines the social, environmental, advertising and marketing influences that encourage youth and young adults to initiate and sustain tobacco use. The report confirms what we all know to be an absolute truth in tobacco control:  nearly all tobacco use begins during youth, and the tobacco industry continues to use marketing and advertising to target young adults.

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A Report of the Surgeon General: Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults concludes that there is sufficient evidence for a causal relationship between smoking and addiction to nicotine, beginning in adolescence and young adulthood. Young people are especially vulnerable to societal and environmental influences to try tobacco. The report concluded that young people are more likely to smoke if their peer groups smoke; if they perceive smoking as normal; or if their peers are anti-social. Additionally, for generations, young people have been a consistent target of tobacco industry marketing, with teens and young people continually bombarded by images of smoking in media and movies.  The Surgeon General confirms that 88 percent of daily adult smokers begin by age of 18 and 99 percent begin by the age of 26.  

Smoking in the United States is truly a youth and young adult epidemic, and we cannot let this go on any longer. Tobacco prevention initiatives that work to curb smoking initiation, not just for teens, but also for young adults, are of critical importance to stem the devastating cycle of disease and death. Through Legacy's truth® youth smoking prevention campaign, now entering its second decade, we are committed to continuing to be a part of this solution by giving teens and young adults the facts and information about tobacco use and tobacco industry marketing – so they can make their own decisions about whether or not to smoke.  After years of steady declines in tobacco use by youth and young adults, recent data shows progress has slowed - making it all the more important to reach young people with effective tobacco prevention messages.   

This is the 31st report on tobacco since 1964. While much progress has been made since then, we now know more than ever its impact on our nation's health, economy and way of life. Smoking quickly passes from being a 'habit' to an addiction even in youth and young adults. Smoking also causes damages in our bodies sooner than we thought, immediately impairing the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. The report concluded that smoking causes reduced lung function, impaired lung growth, asthma, and coronary artery atherosclerosis. In addition, many of the long-term diseases associated with smoking, such as lung cancer, are more likely to develop among those who begin to smoke earlier in life.

Disparities in youth smoking still exist, proving that tobacco is not an equal opportunity killer. Cigarette smoking is highest among American Indians and Alaska Natives, and highest among youth who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Efforts to curb smoking in these populations are essential to winning the war against tobacco. Today's report also highlights the fact that we are now faced with an evolving array of tobacco products, such as cigars and smokeless tobacco. Usage of these products is on the rise among young people: cigar smoking is on the rise among black high school females and smokeless tobacco use is increasing among white high school males, respectively. Cigars and cigarette-sized cigars (little cigars) can be just as harmful as cigarettes.  Like cigarettes, cigars pose significant health risks, contributing to cancers of the mouth, lung, esophagus, and larynx and possibly contributing to the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  The data shows that this is an opportune time to consider policies that would classify cigars, little cigars and cigarillos, alongside cigarettes with higher taxes and increased regulation.

In today's media landscape, which has expanded beyond traditional channels such as newspapers, magazines, radio, and television to the Internet and interactive video gaming—effectively reaching young people is even more urgent and more challenging. America's teens continue to be widely exposed to pro-tobacco messages, despite restrictions placed on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products to minors following the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). We are up against a giant industry – Big Tobacco - that spent $9.94 billion in 2008 on marketing cigarettes in the U.S. alone. Many of the industry-produced ads and promotional activities target the psychological needs of adolescents, such as popularity, peer acceptance and positive self-image. Tobacco marketing campaigns create the perception that smoking will satisfy these needs or that smoking is the social norm, while price promotions continue to attract a young market. While the tobacco industry is gaining new young smokers, the reality is that one-third of them will eventually die from tobacco-related diseases. In the U.S., 1,200 Americans die each day from tobacco-related diseases.

Images in movies and media can be more powerful than traditional tobacco advertisements, and today's report concludes that young people will start to smoke as a result. The Surgeon General's report confirms a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people, and concludes that restricting smoking in movies should be considered. At Legacy, we have contended for years that on-screen images are one of the strongest independent risk factors for youth starting to smoking. As such, we have called on movie studios, production companies, and filmmakers to eliminate smoking in movies accessible to youth. But more can be done.  Past data shows that in the United States alone, in 2010, an estimated $288 million in state tax credits and spending rebates went to films with smoking. In stark contrast, state tobacco and prevention campaigns spent just $533.7 million in 2010.  

While articulating the challenges continuing to exist around solving this public health epidemic, the Surgeon General's report also cites how recent initiatives at the federal level are helping change the landscape around this issue. Beginning with the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998, through the 2009 passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act – more means exist to curb industry advertising and regulate tobacco products. Leadership at the federal level is providing those of us who work in public health with a framework to help solve this problem, collectively and in concert. 

Today the Surgeon General has sounded the alarm: we cannot let this problem go on any longer and we can't let another generation head down a path of addiction, disease, and the social and economic costs that tobacco use brings to our nation.  Indeed, we can go a long way toward preventing our nation's youth from being recruited as "replacement smokers" – new customers - for those who quit smoking or who lose their lives to tobacco-related disease. The report cites evidence-based state and national programs and initiatives that prevent and reduce tobacco use among young people, including: raising taxes to increase the price of products, implementing school and community-based interventions, adopting regulatory initiatives for clean indoor air, and running mass media counter-marking campaigns. These programs need to be funded and executed -- young lives are at stake. While preventing tobacco use in our country is what we often refer to as a David versus Goliath fight to save lives, it is most definitely a "winnable battle."

Legacy helps people live longer, healthier lives by building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Legacy's proven-effective and nationally recognized public education programs include truth®, the national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as contributing to significant declines in youth smoking; EX®, an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; and research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use. Located in Washington, D.C., the foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. To learn more about Legacy's life-saving programs, visit www.LegacyForHealth.org.

Follow us on Twitter @legacyforhealth and Facebook www.Facebook.com/Legacy.



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