Over the past 20 years, youth smoking prevention has been one of America’s success stories. Across the country, young people are taught smoking is unhealthy. But the war against smoking is not over. According to the Surgeon General, 3,800 youth under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette each day. Youth smoking has recently become an epidemic and instead of focusing on blame, the country needs to focus on tobacco use prevention in the most effective ways possible.
The Surgeon General released the latest report on tobacco use last Thursday. Statistics show that while the rate of youth smokers has decreased, there is still a significant problem. According to the report, 19.5 percent of high school students are smokers — down from the 27.5 percent reported in 1994. While the improvement is good, it can be better. Of the 3,800 youth who smoke their first cigarette each day, more than 1,000 of them become daily users.
Smoking has huge economic costs to the United States. According to the World Health Organization, the main cost of smoking comes from healthcare costs and loss of production from smokers who aren’t able to work. Treating lung, tongue, jaw and throat cancer for dying smokers costs a lot of money, and sometimes that money comes from taxpayers. Smokers who are in the hospital or unable to work are not contributing to society. Companies must find replacements or hire additional workers, all at higher costs. Smoking prevention is important to decrease these strains on the economy.
In the past, educational smoking prevention has worked well. The U.S. prides itself on the degree to which smoking is discussed. Schools and families have taken on the job of educating the young about the dangers of smoking. Programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education support these goals and help lower the amount of kids smoking. While educational prevention must continue, there are other options to consider. In Australia, the government has passed a law stating that in Dec. 2012, all cigarette boxes will be plain green with health warnings covering the back and the front. Brand names will only be printed on the front, and logos or trademarks will not be allowed. Australia is allowing market forces to stop the sale of cigarettes. Lack of advertisement on the boxes should discourage newcomers from buying them. Australia’s plan is cost effective and will effectively deter people from purchasing cigarettes.
With the Surgeon General’s announcement that smoking needs to be stopped, the U.S. should also stop its exportation of tobacco products. The U.S. is the biggest exporter of cigarettes to developing countries in the world. It’s hypocritical to put time and money into decreasing smoking in the U.S. while shipping the deadly substance to poorer countries. The U.S. should work to stop smoking all over the world, not just at home.
While the U.S. had one of the most effective smoking prevention programs in the world, our progress has stalled in the past 10 years. Smoking is a strain on the economy and is bad for society. The U.S. should look for more effective ways to end youth smoking by following the lead of other countries and increasing educational programs.