One in five high school students smokes, and 9 out of 10 current smokers started the habit before age 18, a new report from the U.S. surgeon general's office has found. The report has led Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin to declare that youth smoking has reached epidemic proportions.
The report criticizes the tobacco industry for spending an estimated $27 million each day marketing to teens, and calls for greater measures to prevent teens from starting a dangerous habit that will likely last their whole lives.
"Today, more than 600,000 middle school students and 3 million high school students smoke. We don't want our children to start something now that they won't be able to change later in life," Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin said in the report, which details the scope, health consequences and influences that lead to youth tobacco use.
An estimated 3,800 kids pick up their first cigarette every day and 9 in 10 current smokers started before the age of 18. Some 99 percent of all first-time tobacco use happens by the age of 26, exposing young people to the long-term health effects of smoking, such as lung cancer and heart disease.
Smoking kills more than 1,200 people every day, and every tobacco-related death is replaced by two new smokers under the age of 25, the report said.
Image: Smoking cigarette, via Shutterstock.