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Report calls on Kansas to make the next generation tobacco-free

An estimated 91,800 Kansans under age 25 smoke cigarettes

POSTED March 9, 2012 2:10 p.m.

Almost 50 years after the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on tobacco, a lot of work remains to be done to keep young people from taking up the smoking habit, said Janel Rose, Barton County Health Nurse.
Today in Kansas, an estimated 4,800 middle school students and 20,800 high school students  smoke cigarettes.
Each day, more than 1,200 people nationally die due to smoking. For every one of those deaths, at least two new youths or young adults become regular smokers. And 90 percent of these replacement smokers smoke their first cigarette before they turn age 18.
“It worries me that so many youth in Kansas start smoking in middle school and high school because we know that so many of them will become addicted to tobacco and will pay a high price both physically with their health and financially because they will use scarce funds to pay for tobacco,” she said Friday. “It is time to put a stop to tobacco companies hooking the next generation of our children.”
Rose’s remarks come on the heels of a new report issued Thursday by U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin calling on the nation to make the next generation smoke free. According to the study, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, far too many youth and young adults are using tobacco.
In Kansas, high school student cigarette smoking has declined by 45 percent since 20002. In contrast, the percent of young Kansas adults 18 to 24 years old who smoke cigarettes has not changed significantly since 20003.  The latest data show that smokeless tobacco use by Kansas male high school students has also not changed significantly since 2000.2 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.
The comprehensive report provides further scientific evidence on young people’s sensitivity to nicotine. The younger they are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to get addicted and the more heavily addicted they will become. Nicotine addiction will cause about 3 out of 4 teens to smoke into adulthood, even if they intend to quit after a few years.
The report finds that tobacco marketing is a key factor in causing young people to start using tobacco, and nicotine addiction keeps them using it. 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, according to the report. The more young people are exposed to cigarette advertising and promotional activities, the more likely they are to smoke.
Images in tobacco marketing make tobacco use look appealing to young people who want to fit in with their peers. Kids and teens see smoking in their social circles, movies they watch, video games they play, websites they visit, and many communities where they live. Smoking is often portrayed as a normal, acceptable, even appealing activity; young people exposed to these images are more likely to smoke.
 And in 2010, nearly a third of top-grossing movies for children – those with G, PG, or PG-13 ratings – contained images of tobacco use. The report concludes that smoking in movies causes youth to start smoking.
“The evidence in the Surgeon General’s report clearly demonstrates a great need for the continued commitment from our public health professionals, health care advocates and concerned community leaders and citizens to prevent our young people from using tobacco,” said Robert Moser, Kansas Department of Health and Environment secretary and state health officer. “We’ve seen success in Kansas with our youth cessation tools, so we know what works. Our local partners have made great strides in these efforts, and we must all work together to protect the young people in Kansas from the health dangers of tobacco use.”
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. For heart disease, we see early damage in most young smokers and those most sensitive die very young.
The significant health effects of tobacco use also have a financial impact on the state. Kansas spends an estimated $196 million annually in Medicaid costs to treat tobacco-related illnesses and an estimated $860 million in lost productivity costs are attributed to tobacco use in Kansas. (Source: Sustaining State Programs for Tobacco Control, Data Highlights 2006, CDC)
“In Kansas, the public health community uses evidence-based strategies to prevent youth tobacco use and encourage cessation,” Moser said. “We’ve been working on tobacco-free school grounds to reduce youth exposure to secondhand smoke and de-normalize tobacco use. Our online cessation tool for youth is relatively new, and it was implemented after hearing strong sentiment from youth who said they would not call a phone-based Quitline to work with a Quit Coach.” 
The state has made some progress with these resources, Moser said, but a lot of work remains.

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