Children and Tobacco: The Facts

Tobacco Use is a Pediatric Disease

Every year, about 400,000 Americans are killed by a preventable cause: tobacco use. Tobacco-related deaths far outnumber the combined deaths related to AIDS, homicides, alcohol, illegal drugs, car accidents, fires and suicides. Tobacco is readily accessible to kids, both from vending machines and over the counter. Although state laws forbid the sale of tobacco to minors, these rules are frequently weak and unenforceable, and therefore do little to prevent sales to minors. Every day, 3,000 kids become smokers, and almost one-third of them will lose their lives to a smoking-related disease.

David Kessler, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, termed tobacco use a "PEDIATRIC DISEASE," since most adult smokers began when they were kids. Dr. Kessler said, "The tobacco industry has argued that the decision to smoke and continue to smoke is a free choice made by an adult. But ask a smoker when he or she began to smoke. Chances are you will hear the tale of a child."

Tobacco products contain the highly addictive drug nicotine, and nicotine addiction most often begins in childhood and adolescence. Recent data from the American Council on Science and Health and the American Medical Association estimate that more than three million youths smoke, and another one million use smokeless tobacco. A new survey by the University of Michigan found that between 1991 and 1994, regular smoking among eighth graders increased 30 percent, and among tenth graders, smoking increased 22 percent.

Although tobacco companies argue that tobacco use is an "adult choice," most people over 21 don't begin smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 62 percent of adult regular smokers started smoking when they were 16 years-old, 37 percent at age 14, and 90 percent by the time they were eighteen. The starting age for use of smokeless tobacco is even lower: according to an American Medical Association study, the average age children become regular users of smokeless tobacco products is 12 years. In 1992, the Surgeon General reported that "the younger an adolescent begins smoking, the greater chance he or she will become addicted [to nicotine] as an adult. . . and consequently develop a smoking-related disease later in life." A 1992 Gallup poll found that two-thirds of the youths who smoke wanted to quit but couldn't; seventy percent of them reported that they would choose NOT to smoke if given another chance.

More than 75 percent of under-aged high school students were not asked to show proof of age when they purchased cigarettes. ("Tobacco Use and Usual Source of Cigarettes Among High School Students -- United States, 1995," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 24, 1996.)

Advertising is another factor encouraging children to smoke. According to a report done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 86 percent of child smokers use the three most heavily advertised brands, Marlboro, Camel, and Newport these brands account for only 35 percent of the overall market share. Research from the University of California, San Diego, found that even adolescents who had never smoked are affected by advertising: 40 percent of adolescents who had never smoked could name at least one cigarette brand they would prefer to buy. In an interview in the New York Times, Dr. John Pierce, lead author of the study, said, "[The findings indicate] that marketing has an effect on children before they begin to smoke. . . It is not that children see an ad and start smoking, but seeing the ads and handling the cigarette packs and the promotional gifts lessens their resistance, weakens their resolve, so that later on they will be somewhat more willing to accept a cigarette from a peer when it is offered."

Tobacco advertising and promotion influence adolescents' decision to begin smoking more than peer pressure or parental smoking, according to a recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. (Nicola Evans, et. al., "Influence of Tobacco Marketing and Exposure to Smokers on Adolescent Susceptibility to Smoking," Journal of the American Cancer Institute, October 18, 1995.)

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