March 8, 2012
We’re here today to unveil the 2012 Surgeon General’s report on tobacco use among youth and young adults.
Since the first Surgeon General’s report on tobacco was published in 1964, we’ve seen the percentage of Americans who smoke steadily decline. In 1965, over 42 percent of Americans smoked. By 2004, it had fallen to just under 21 percent.
But for all the progress we’ve made, tobacco use remains the biggest single threat to American’s health. It kills an estimated 443,000 Americans each year and every tobacco-related death is replaced by two new smokers under the age of 26.
Today’s report brings more troubling news. It’s the first of its kind to explore the causes and consequences of tobacco use among youth and young adults. And it shows us just what we’re up against.
Today there are middle schoolers developing deadly tobacco addictions before they can even drive a car. And the younger a child is when they try cigarettes, the more likely they are to get and stay addicted to nicotine. One child picking up a tobacco product is one too many, but the fact that each day, across America, more than 3,800 kids under 18 smoke their first cigarette is completely unacceptable.
But this report also underscores the importance of the historic efforts the Obama Administration has taken to stop youth from using tobacco products and to help adults quit.
Since the numbers weren’t changing fast enough, we had to change the way we rid our communities of tobacco. So that’s exactly what we’re doing.
We pushed wide-ranging legislation that, among many other things, makes it harder for tobacco companies to market to kids. It also restricts companies from using terms like “light” or “mild” on products and in marketing. And it bans certain candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes. That legislation had been debated for years, and we got it done.
We’re also supporting local programs to help people quit smoking and stop people from starting. And as a part of last year’s health care law, we gave Americans better access to counseling to help them quit smoking before they get sick.
Around the country, we’ve seen states join in this fight, with 25 states and Washington, D.C. passing smoke-free laws to improve health.
Over the last three years, we’ve made giant strides in our fight against tobacco, and our efforts are paying off. But today’s report is an important reminder that we have a lot more work to do to make tobacco death and disease part of our past, and not part of our future.