According to a report just released by the U.S. Surgeon General, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, far too many youth and young adults are using tobacco. In Oklahoma, an estimated 3.7 percent of middle school students and almost 18 percent of high school students smoke.
“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,” said Tracey Strader, executive director, Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. “The younger people are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to get addicted and the more heavily addicted they will become.”
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. Oklahoma, however, has better news to report. Latest data for Oklahoma middle school and high school students indicate that since 1999, fewer of these students use any type of tobacco product. For example, from 2009 to 2011, cigarette smoking decreased 11 percent among high school students and 43 percent among middle school students. Smokeless tobacco use remained the same among high school students and decreased 20 percent among middle school students. Cigar use also remained the same among high school students but decreased 14 percent among middle school students. Among young adults aged 18 to 24 years of age, smoking cigarettes has decreased by 20 percent in Oklahoma.
While noting some progress in smoking among youth, Oklahoma public health officials are still concerned that tobacco marketing is a key factor in causing young people to start using tobacco. More than $1 million an hour is spent on marketing tobacco products in this country – and 99 percent of all new smokers come from youth and young adult populations who are enticed to smoke by this marketing.
“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 Strader. “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. A fully-funded tobacco control program adopting the strategies outlined in the report could cut youth smoking rates in half in six years. And more importantly, we would reduce the staggering toll that tobacco takes on our families and communities.”
Oklahoma ranks 7th for funding tobacco prevention programs, spending more than $21 million on tobacco control programs as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This investment is money well spent as more and more local cities and towns are taking action in their communities. Currently, there are 253 school districts that have adopted 24/7 tobacco-free policies out of 522 districts in the state. Seventy percent of public school students attend a 24/7 tobacco-free school. Numerous communities have adopted Clean Indoor Air and Youth Access ordinances that mirror the state laws and are clearly ready to take responsible measures to increase the health and economic development within their communities.
For more information on Oklahoma tobacco control activities, please visit www.stopswithme.com or www.TSET.ok.gov. For online copies of the Surgeon Generals’s report, executive summary, and an easy-to-read guide on tobacco use and young people, visit www.surgeongeneral.gov.