Study Finds Smoking Still Prevalent Among Young

More than three million high school students are smokers, and smoking is now being called a pediatric epidemic. The Surgeon General released a report today on youth smoking, the first big review of the problem since 1994. The report laid out strong evidence that promotion and marketing by tobacco companies causes young people to begin smoking.

Back in 1998, tobacco companies agreed not to market cigarettes to children.

But Melissa Stigler, a public health professor at the University of Texas, says the companies' favorite technique– the promotional price cut – is actually the most attractive to young people, because they're very sensitive to price.

"A kid walking into a convenience store or a grocery store, it's the kind of advertising one sees as you comes up to the cash register, we call that point-of-purchase advertising, there are any number of promotions going on, so buy two get one free, things of that nature."

Stigler says the studies show that young people are also influenced simply by seeing smokers.

This exposure can come at the movies, in video games, and in parks and restaurants.

Although some Texas cities have instituted smoking bans, she would like a statewide ban.

She says evidence from other states proves that this works.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, says that for every American that dies from smoking, two young people under age 25 take up the habit.

"There are middle schoolers developing deadly tobacco addictions before they can even drive a car. And the younger a child is when they try cigarettes the more likely they are to get and stay addicted to nicotine."

Sebelius points out that the national health reform law, the Affordable Care Act, includes more money and programs to help people quit smoking.

But she wants more emphasis on prevention, because 99 percent of smokers start before the age of 26.

"One child picking up a tobacco product is one too many. But the fact that each and every day across America more than 3,800 kids under 18 smoke their first cigarette is completely unacceptable."

The Obama administration began greater regulation of tobacco in 2009.

Companies can no longer sell candy- or fruit-flavored cigarettes, because those appeal to the young.

The administration is also looking into regulation of electronic cigarettes.

The parent company of Philip Morris, Altria, released a statement saying it agrees that kids shouldn't use tobacco products, and that it markets to adults using age verification. 

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...