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Surgeon General’s report takes aim at youth smoking  

Jump to full article: The Washington Post, 2012-03-08
Author: David Brown


Smoking during the teenage years stunts lung growth and accelerates the decline in their function that inevitably comes with age. At the same time, the habit damages blood vessels in ways that can later lead to a heart attack, stroke and aortic rupture.

Those are among the conclusions of a report by the U.S. Surgeon General on tobacco use by young people. The 899-page document gathers recent research on the epidemiology, effects and strategies to fight youth smoking.

The last such report, in 1994, spurred a public health campaign that caused a marked drop in teenage smoking, especially after 1998. Since 2007, however, that trend has leveled off, and tobacco use is now increasing in some groups and categories. For example, smokeless tobacco use is up among white high school-age boys, and cigar smoking appears to be rising among black high school girls.

"Two people start smoking for every one who dies from the habit each year," Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin said. "Almost 90 percent of those 'replacement smokers' first try tobacco before they are 18."

Among the more remarkable findings in the report is how early and measurably smoking damages the youthful body, even if its owner doesn't feel it.

A study of nearly 700 children from East Boston found that those who started to smoke at age 15 exhaled 8 percent less air in one second -- a key measure of lung function -- than non-smoking teenagers. The growth of lung capacity stopped a year earlier in smokers -- at 17 in girls and 19 in boys -- than in non-smokers.

Lung function usually doesn't begin to decline until after age 45 in men. In those who started smoking as teenagers and kept at it, that change began almost 15 years earlier.

Other studies, involving black U.S. teenagers, Dutch adolescents followed for 15 years and Danish children with asthma, also showed damaging effects of smoking on lung function.

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