Report Card: Tobacco & Teens
Minnesota recently got its report card back, and it doesn’t look good. We’re doing well in Smokefree Air (we got an A!) but received a D in Cessation. Worst of all, we’re failing Tobacco Prevention, Control, and Spending. That’s right – a big, red F.
At the same time, we’re losing ground in the campaign against adolescent smoking. A wave of energy for prevention and cessation programs after a 1994 Surgeon General report about smoking in teens resulted in significant declines in tobacco use, but this trend has stagnated since 2007. A new Surgeon General report, released earlier this month, highlights the importance of continued commitment to this cause. Rates of tobacco use, which were falling steadily, have been slowing their decline. Some demographics have seen increased use – for example, cigar smoking among African-American high school females. Many states, including Minnesota, have been slashing budgets for prevention and cessation programs – and losing teens we might have reached with continued support for anti-tobacco programming.
Let’s look at the numbers for Minnesota:
- 18.1 percent of high school students smoke
- 15 percent of males use smokeless tobacco (another demographic seeing increases)
- 6,800 young people become daily smokers each year
- 118,000 of today’s young people will eventually die prematurely due to smoking
- almost 1/2 of high school girls and over ¼ of high school boys say weight loss is one reason they smoke
We know that for people who start using tobacco before the age of 18, smoking stunts lung growth, causes lung function to decline more quickly, and damages blood vessels, thus increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Young people can become dependent on nicotine more quickly than adults. For every person who dies because of smoking, two “replacements” will start smoking – and 90 percent of these will have first tried tobacco before the age of 18.
Clearly, we need to step up our game. Right now, Minnesota spends only 33.4 percent of the CDC-recommended level on tobacco prevention. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids advises that states need educational and media campaigns, community & school-based programs, meaningful law enforcement to stop minors from buying cigarettes, assistance for cessation programs, and strong evaluation systems in order to sustain what used to be significant downward trends in teen tobacco use.
There’s no extra credit possible here, so we need to buckle down in order to improve our grades. Instead of slashing budgets, let’s invest in tobacco prevention for the health of all Minnesota’s teens.