Young Adults Get Equal Lights
THURSDAY, Oct. 5 (HealthSCOUT) -- Young adults have now caught up to older adults, at least when it comes to smoking cigarettes, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says today.
In the past, the gap between smokers in their early 20s and those 25 and over was much wider, but in 1998, 27.9 percent of adults aged 18 to 24 years smoked cigarettes; 27.5 of 25-to-44 year olds lit up every day. The 1998 figures are the latest available. The jump in the number of these young smokers has prompted the CDC to call for comprehensive approaches to tobacco control and smoking prevention.
"A lot has to be done if we are going to meet the Healthy People 2010 goal for the whole population of reducing smoking rates to no more than 12 percent," says Dr. Corinne Huston, the CDC's branch chief of epidemiology in the office of smoking and health in Atlanta. People over 25 have always smoked the most, she says, and now young adults are smoking at the same level.
Healthy People 2010, announced by the U.S. surgeon general in January, is a national plan for health promotion and disease prevention.
Overall, 24.1 percent of Americans smoked in 1998, Huston reports. "That's fairly comparable to what we've seen in the '90s." Smoking rates were highest among American Indians and native Alaskans, and lowest among Hispanics and Pacific Islanders, she adds.
"What is most encouraging is that people who are college graduates have met the Healthy People 2010 goal," Huston says. "In this particular group, about 11.3 percent of them smoke." The findings appear in tomorrow's issue of the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Huston blames higher smoking rates among teens during the '90s for the problem in young adults. "We think adolescent smoking increased dramatically in the early part of the '90s. Now they are growing up and still smoking." For instance, smoking in kids age 11 to 18 increased from 27.5 percent to 34.8 percent in the '90s, say CDC figures.
Or, the hike among early twentysomethings could be because teens are starting to smoke when they become adults.
"Perhaps what we see is that they [teens] are just waiting until they are older to begin smoking since we focused a lot of effort to prevent initiation in younger groups," Huston says. "But we really don't know the exact cause since the data does not answer that question."
Whatever the cause, the new statistics are of great concern, says Dr. Norman Edelman, consultant for scientific affairs with the American Lung Association in New York City. "These are the future people who are going to suffer from emphysema, from lung cancer, from cardiovascular disease. We should all be enormously concerned."
Huston says the country must redouble its efforts to get people to quit smoking. "We have had a dramatic decline in smoking in the United States. Prior to the release of the Surgeon General's Report on Smoking in 1965, 42.4 percent of adults smoked, and now we are at 24 percent. And you have to understand that the increase in promotional efforts to get people to quit has only increased recently so it is too soon to see an effect." Adults were considered to be people over 18.
It's up to states and communities to take advantage of the resources provided by the 1998 tobacco settlement to create comprehensive anti-smoking campaigns, Huston says. "We need to take aggressive action. We know what works. We just have to find the will of the nation to solve this problem, and we have to get the states to devote adequate resources and effort to solve it.
The 1998 tobacco settlement provides payments to the states worth $206 billion over the next 26 years. In addition, four other states each settled with the tobacco industry for more than $40 billion, according to the National Governor's Association.
"But whatever the efforts, they pale beside the effort the industry goes to get kids to start," Edelman adds. "There's no surprise in these new statistics. The industry spends billions of dollars to get these kids to smoke."
What To Do
"More effort should be put together at the public level to target specifically these young adults, and we also need to maintain our focus on teen-agers," Edelman says.
It's never too late to quit smoking.
For more information about the dangers of smoking, go to the American Cancer Society Web site. The National Cancer Institute also offers most of its list of monographs online.