On March 8, the U.S. Surgeon General released a new report, “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Adults,” which underscores the critical need to prevent tobacco use to help combat the pervasive problem of tobacco use in our country. Nearly nine out of 10 smokers start by age 18, and 99 percent start by age 26.
In Florida, substantial progress has been made and the state is committed to continued efforts ahead, with the Florida Department of Health’s Tobacco Free Florida campaign as the centerpiece. Since Tobacco Free Florida launched in 2007, 17.9 percent fewer high school students and 42.6 percent fewer middle school students in the state are current cigarette smokers. Florida’s high school smoking rate, currently at 11.9 percent, is below the national average.
Despite the progress made, tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of death and disease.Thousands of youth in Florida become new cigarette smokers each year, creating a new generation of lifelong nicotine addicts and of life-threatening diseases. If this continues, more than 300,000 Florida children will ultimately die prematurely from their own smoking or secondhand smoke.3
Tobacco prevention and support for Tobacco Free Florida is as imperative as ever. More than five years ago, an overwhelming number of Floridians voted for a state constitutional amendment, which guarantees funding for this comprehensive program.
Today, Floridians can continue to help prevent tobacco use by quitting tobacco themselves. The most prominent influence on youth’s decision to smoke is whether the parent smokes. Floridians can also encourage tobacco users in their lives to seek out the state’s free quit resources and can support smoke-free policies in their communities. Smoke-free policies can de-normalize tobacco use, which discourages youth and young adults from starting to use tobacco and encourages tobacco users to quit.