For Immediate Release
March 9, 2012

KDHE Office of Communications
communications@kdheks.gov, 785-296-0461

New Surgeon General’s Report Calls on Kansas to
Make The Next Generation Tobacco-Free

An estimated 91,800 Kansans under age 25 smoke cigarettes

TOPEKA, Kan. - Almost 50 years after the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on tobacco, Regina Benjamin, M.D., United States Surgeon General, released a new report yesterday and called on the nation to make the next generation tobacco-free. According to the report, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, far too many youth and young adults are using tobacco. Today in Kansas an estimated 4,800 middle school students1 and 20,800 high school students2  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.

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, M.D., 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. 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.” said Moser. “We’ve made some progress with these resources, but a lot of work remains.”

To provide assistance to tobacco users of any age who are ready to quit, KDHE offers free cessation support and information online at www.QuitNow.net/Kansas or toll free at 1-800-QUIT NOW (784-8669). To further assist youth and young adults, in January KDHE launched www.KanQuit.org, an online resource for teens and young adults seeking information about the health effects of tobacco use and resources to help them quit.

For more information on the Kansas Tobacco Use Prevention Program, please visit www.kdheks.gov/tobacco. For online copies of the full Surgeon General’s report, executive summary and an easy-to-read guide on tobacco use and young people visit www.surgeongeneral.gov.

KDHE’s Tobacco Use Prevention Program manages the Kansas Tobacco Quitline and provides resources and technical assistance to community coalitions for development, enhancement and evaluation of state and local tobacco prevention initiatives. For additional information on the Kansas Tobacco Use Prevention Program visit www.kdheks.gov/tobacco.

Sources Cited:

  1. Kansas Youth Tobacco Survey, Bureau of Health Promotion, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, http://www.kdheks.gov/tobacco/download/YTS2010_FactSheet.pdf, 2010
  2. Kansas Youth Risk Behavior System, Kansas State Department of Education, 2011
  3. Kansas Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Bureau of Health Promotion, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, http://www.kdheks.gov/brfss/, 2000 & 2010.