As the American Cancer Society celebrates the 37th annual Great American Smokeout on Thursday, fewer high school students in New York state are smoking - though the rate of decline is slowing.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, in the United States, 3.6 million youth smoke cigarettes. In New York, the current rate of cigarette smoking by high school students is 12.6 percent, less than the 17.2 percent national rate. Locally though, about 1 in 4 youth smoke.
"Youth smoking rates have fallen faster in New York state than in the U.S. as a whole, but there's still a lot of work to be done," said Mike Porpiglia, American Cancer Society community executive for Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties. "The American Cancer Society has supported the New York State Tobacco Control Program by encouraging tobacco-free outdoor policies at college campuses and by helping smokers quit and keeping kids from starting."
The 2012 report, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General, concluded that tobacco industry marketing causes youth tobacco use. The tobacco industry spends more to market tobacco products in New York state than the alcohol, junk food and soda industries combined. Youth are twice as likely as adults to recall tobacco advertising. Much of the advertising and marketing is done at the checkout counters in convenience stores and pharmacies. The Surgeon General's report also states that when communities have tobacco retailers located close to schools, youth are more likely to smoke.
"Tobacco companies call them 'replacement smokers' we call them our children," stated Laurie Adams, Tri-County Tobacco Free program director. "The tobacco industry spends about $1.1 million per day in New York state to market its products. Most of its marketing is located where 75 percent of teens shop every week. On the Great American Smokeout we need to help smokers quit and protect our youth from exposure to tobacco marketing. Parents and community members need to be educated on this type of exposure and take steps to help protect our kids."
Smoking is still a serious threat to our youth. According to the Surgeon General, nearly all adults who smoke started by the age of 18. Smoking during the teen years causes early damage to the lungs which in most cases cannot be reversed. It also leads to health problems including heart disease, asthma and numerous cancers as well as breathlessness and the inability to participate in physical activities.
"I quit smoking and hope my children never start," stated Lisa Lamer, ex-smoker and parent. "It was hard to quit, especially when you go into certain stores and all you see are tobacco ads and large displays of cigarettes. The Great American Smokeout reminds me of how important quitting was and how I need to help protect my children."
"We know tobacco product displays and advertising give youth the impression that tobacco products are easily accessible," said Samantha Vanstrom, Reality Check senior program coordinator. Our kids are being targeted by tobacco companies and everyone should be mad about what they're doing."
For help quitting tobacco, contact the state Smokers' Quitline at nysmokefree.com or call 866-697-8487.