WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data from its annual National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) showing that tobacco use among youth continues to slowly decline. This is good news for public health. Even small numerical declines in cigarette smoking year after year [less than 1.6 percentage points] become significant over time. We should not lose sight of the momentum and tremendous progress that we have seen in the past two decades to stem the tide of smoking among youth.
While we see these reductions in tobacco use among high school and middle school youth, the data also show the most common form of tobacco are combusted products, which produce the most lethal tars and carbon monoxide that prematurely kill half of all cigarette smokers. The new NYTS findings underscore that among the 23% of high school students currently using a tobacco product, more than 90% are using combustible tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, hookahs and pipes. Further, a large number of high school students (12.6%) are using two or more products together. It is yet another reminder that aggressive, innovative and disruptive efforts are critical to halting this dual use if we hope to end the tobacco epidemic for good.
Further, cigar use remains highest among African American youth - it was nearly 50 percent higher than cigarette use for high school students and nearly twice as high for black middle school students. Minority and underserved populations are most at-risk for dual use and are those same populations that often bear a disproportionate brunt of tobacco-related morbidity and mortality. This is unacceptable and must be addressed immediately. With the proposed deeming regulations to bring e-cigarettes, hookah, cigars and other tobacco products under Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) authority, the public health and tobacco control communities are eager to secure meaningful changes that can significantly accelerate the decline in tobacco use. We urge the FDA to move swiftly to adopt a final rule to get the job done.
If we do not take an aggressive public policy stance on other forms of combustible and emerging non-combustible products, it will be business as usual for the tobacco industry, which continues to invest heavily ($9B/year) in their traditional cigarette brands while increasing emphasis on their non-cigarette combustible business with offerings such as little cigars. As we've seen with this data and previous research, alternative tobacco products are widely available in youth appealing flavors such as chocolate, vanilla and peach, are often significantly less expensive than cigarettes, and marketed with many fewer restrictions.
However we know that these products are just as deadly. Like cigarettes, cigars pose significant health risks, contributing to cancers of the mouth, lung, esophagus, and larynx and possibly contributing to the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Meanwhile, young people may be unaware that in just one session of hookah, a person may inhale as much smoke as smoking 100 cigarettes or more.
In addition to strict regulations of tobacco, effective national, evidence-based public education campaigns aimed at youth are a key part of a comprehensive effort to reduce youth and young adult tobacco use. Through Legacy's national truth® youth prevention campaign, we are working to finally end this epidemic once and for all. Our latest truth campaign, titled "Finish It," aims to enlist young people to be the generation that finally ends smoking for good.
Since Legacy re-launched the campaign this summer, tens of thousands of "Finishers" have engaged with the program to "X" their social profile pictures, post, tweet, Instagram and blog to encourage their peers to rally an army of "Finishers" to make tobacco a fight of their own.
Tobacco use is one of the most difficult public health challenges of our time. Nearly half a million Americans die from tobacco, yet millions of smokers continue to light up each day, including our nation's youth. The Surgeon General has underscored that nearly all tobacco use begins during adolescence. That is why it is critical to keep young people from starting to smoke.
Unless innovative approaches to both cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are employed to dramatically decrease tobacco use, 5.6 million young people alive today are projected to die prematurely. And as we've seen all too often, many more will live lives compromised by its devastating effects.
Legacy envisions an America where tobacco is a thing of the past, where all youth and young adults reject tobacco use. Legacy's proven-effective and nationally recognized public education programs include truth®, the national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as contributing to significant declines in youth smoking; EX®, an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; and research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use. Located in Washington, D.C., the foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. To learn more about Legacy's life-saving programs, visit www.LegacyForHealth.org.