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New Surgeon General’s Report Calls on Alaska to Make the Next Generation Tobacco-Free

Anchorage, ALASKA - Almost 50 years after the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on tobacco, Dr. Regina Benjamin, United States surgeon general, released a new report 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 more than 600,000 middle school students and 3 million high school students smoke cigarettes. In Alaska, an estimated 14 percent of high school students smoke and over 8 percent use smokeless tobacco, which means that on average in any given Alaska class of 30 high school students, four smoked a cigarette and 2-3 used smokeless tobacco within the last month.

Each day more than 1,200 people in the United States 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.

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 three out of four teens to smoke into adulthood, even if they intend to quit after a few years.

In Alaska, the use of cigarettes by high school students declined from 37 percent in 1995 to 14 percent in 2011.  Over the same time period smokeless tobacco use dropped from 16 percent to 8. Alaska has made tremendous progress in reducing youth tobacco use, yet there is more work to be done. Alaska Native students are twice as likely to use tobacco as their non-Native peers. Additionally, in Alaska rates of tobacco use among young adults aged 18-29 exceed those of adults in all other age groups.  

This report finds that 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. Tobacco companies say their marketing only promotes brand choices among adult smokers –but regardless of intent, it encourages underage youth to smoke. The more young people are exposed to cigarette advertising and promotional activities, the more likely they are to smoke.

“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 Pat Reynaga, Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance co-chair. “We know what works: Comprehensive efforts that include mass media campaigns, 100 percent smoke-free laws in restaurants, bars and workplaces, high cigarette prices, evidence-based school programs, and sustained community-wide efforts. We must redouble our efforts to protect the young people in Alaska.”

For more information on Alaska tobacco control activities, please visit the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance website at Alaskatca.org <http://www.alaskatca.org>  or Alaska’s Tobacco Quit Line website at Alaskaquitline.com <http://www.alaskaquitline.com> . 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 Surgeongeneral.gov <http://www.surgeongeneral.gov> .

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