According to the CDC’s High School Risk Behavior survey, 59.2% of Kentucky high-schoolers have tried cigarettes at least once.
Disturbingly, 31.9% tried some form of tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco or snuff) at least once during the 30 days before the survey.
Whether smoked or smokeless, tobacco is a major health concern for the youth of Kentucky and the nation.
Every day more than 3,800 people under 18 in the U.S. smoke their first cigarette. More than 1,000 become daily smokers.
For every three younger smokers, one will later quit and one will eventually die from tobacco-related causes.
In childhood, smoking can impair lung growth. Young smokers can develop coughing, phlegm, wheezing and shortness of breath.
They are more prone to bronchitis and pneumonia.
Older smokers can develop wrinkly skin, bad breath, slower healing of wounds and other injuries, yellow teeth, decreased bone density and fertility problems.
Smokers can develop heart disease, strokes, emphysema and a variety of cancers (including lung cancer).
Youth who use smokeless tobacco can develop cracked and bleeding lips and gums, gum recession, loss of teeth, increased heart rate, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat.
Later, they may have heart attacks, strokes and a variety of tobacco-related cancers (including mouth, throat, esophageal, stomach and bladder cancers).
Youth are bombarded with images of smoking. Nearly $10 billion a year is spent on marketing cigarettes.
More than half of all movies for children under 13 contain scenes of tobacco use.
Once young people start using tobacco products, it is hard (but certainly not impossible) for them to stop.
Nicotine, a chemical found in tobacco, is highly addictive.
The best strategy for decreasing tobacco use in young people is for them to never try it in the first place.
According to the CDC, this can be accomplished by making tobacco products less affordable, restricting tobacco marketing, banning smoking in public places and strengthening warning labels on tobacco products.
Tobacco kills about 443,000 people in the U.S. each year.
Smokers die on average 13 years sooner than non-smokers do.
Young people who want to quit using tobacco products should talk to their health care providers for appropriate strategies.
Quitting could literally save their lives.