Surgeon General Cites Cancer Center Studies in New Youth Smoking Report

"Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults" emphasizes Dartmouth research on influence of smoking in movies on youth smoking

It's shocking. Every day, more than 1,200 people in the United States die from smoking-related causes—more than 440,000 Americans every year.

Focus article photo

Tobacco use among American teens is now "epidemic," according to the newly released U.S. Surgeon General's report, "Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults."

Yet for each of those deaths, at least two youth or young adults younger than 25 become regular smokers each day. And almost 90 percent of these replacement smokers smoke their first cigarette by age 18.

"Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults," the new report issued by the Surgeon General of the United States, is packed with similar grim statistics. In a nod to research conducted by Norris Cotton Cancer Center's James Sargent, MD, the report points out that media images of smoking have a profound impact on the young.

Smoking in Movies

"The evidence is sufficient to conclude that there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people," the report states, citing the Dartmouth research. "This was one of only seven causal statements in the entire text, and most of them had to do with smoking and disease. This conclusion speaks to the strength of the evidence developed by the behavioral scientists in our Cancer Control Research Program," says Sargent. "Smoking in movies now ranks along with peer smoking and tobacco marketing as one factor considered by the Surgeon General to cause youths to smoke, and this conclusion has enormous policy implications."

Photo: Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA

"By strengthening and continuing to build upon effective policies and programs, we can help make our next generation tobacco-free," says Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA.

"Pressure will mount on the movie industry to rate movies with smoking 'R.' Such a policy would reduce youth exposure because producers would eliminate the smoking from movies targeted at youth to retain those viewers, just like they currently do with sex, violence, and profanity," says Sargent, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Cancer Center and a Dartmouth-Hitchcock pediatrician.

The "Epidemic" of Teen Smoking

The Surgeon General's report, the 31st annual tobacco-related report issued since 1964, called tobacco use among youth aged 12 through 17 years an "epidemic." The causal health effects from smoking at a young age include nicotine dependence, reduced lung function and retarded lung growth, and early cardiovascular damage. Among youth who persist in smoking, a third will die from smoking, half of them during middle age.

The report emphasizes that state prevention programs are critical to stemming and controlling this epidemic. Successful multi-component programs have been proven to prevent young people from starting to use tobacco in the first place and the programs more than pay for themselves in lives and saved health care dollars. Successful strategies include mass media campaigns, higher tobacco prices, smoke-free laws and policies, evidence-based school programs, and sustained community-wide efforts. Effective programs could cut youth tobacco use in half within a decade, the Surgeon General estimates.

Stopping Tobacco and Saving Millions of Lives

"We know what works to prevent tobacco use among young people," states Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, in the report's preface. "The science contained in this and other Surgeon General's reports provides us with the information we need to prevent the needless suffering of premature disease caused by tobacco use, as well as save millions of lives. By strengthening and continuing to build upon effective policies and programs, we can help make our next generation tobacco-free."

March 19, 2012