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Updated: Sept. 15, 2014
The fight against tobacco is about saving lives. It’s also about taking on the tobacco industry, which targets kids and deceives people in order to sell its deadly and addictive products.
Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States and around the world. It causes terrible and deadly diseases, including many forms of cancer, heart disease and emphysema (a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe). In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General has found that tobacco use damages nearly every organ in the human body.
We know how to win the fight against tobacco by doing three things:
- Prevent kids from starting to smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products;
- Help current tobacco users quit; and
- Protect everyone from harmful secondhand smoke.
By getting involved in Kick Butts Day and other activities, America’s youth can raise awareness about the tobacco problem, encourage peers to be tobacco-free and support effective solutions to reduce tobacco use.
Toll of Tobacco in the United States
In the United States, tobacco use kills more than 480,000 people each year – that’s more Americans than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.
Here are some other key facts:
- The vast majority of smokers start as children. In the U.S., 90 percent of all smokers start while in their teens or earlier.
- Every day, another 700 kids become regular smokers. One-third of them will die prematurely from a smoking-caused disease.
- Tobacco use costs us $132.5 billion each year in medical bills.
- It’s not just cigarettes that are bad for your health. Other forms of tobacco, including cigars and spit or smokeless tobacco, are also harmful and addictive.
- Secondhand smoke is also hazardous – it kills nearly 50,000 people in the U.S. each year. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including at least 69 that cause cancer. According to the Surgeon General, secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and respiratory problems, sudden infant death syndrome, low birth weight, ear infections and more severe asthma attacks in infants and children.
There is good news: The United States has made a lot of progress in reducing smoking by both youth and adults. We’ve cut adult smoking by more than half since the 1960s, and youth smoking in half since 1997. But 15.7 percent of high school students and 18.1 percent of adults still smoke, so we still have a lot of work to do.
Toll of Tobacco Around the World
Tobacco use is a serious problem not just in the United States, but in every country.
As smoking has gone down in the U.S. and other higher-income countries, tobacco companies have targeted low- and middle-income countries with their deadly products and deceptive marketing. As a result, many countries are paying a terrible price:
- Tobacco will kill one billion people in the 21st century unless countries take strong action to fight tobacco use. Nearly 80 percent of these deaths will be in low and middle-income countries.
- Tobacco will kill nearly six million people worldwide this year.
- Every day, as many as 100,000 young people around the world become addicted to tobacco. If current trends continue, 250 million children and young people alive today will die from tobacco-related diseases.
The world’s nations have responded with strong action to reduce tobacco use and save lives. An international treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, took effect in February 2005. Nations that joined the treaty have pledged to take effective action to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.
Exposing Big Tobacco
Tobacco’s terrible toll is no accident. It’s a direct result of the tobacco industry’s actions, including marketing that targets kids and deceives people about the harmful effects of their products.
In 2011, tobacco companies spent $8.8 billion – $1 million every hour – to market their deadly and addictive products. They target kids because they need “replacement smokers” to take the place of smokers who die or quit.
To attract young people, tobacco companies market cigarettes and other tobacco products as fun, cool and glamorous. While sweet-flavored cigarettes are now banned, tobacco companies continue to market cigar and smokeless tobacco products that are flavored and packaged like candy.
Winning the Fight Against Tobacco
We know how to win the fight against tobacco. Science and experience have identified effective strategies that prevent kids from using tobacco, help tobacco users quit and protect everyone from secondhand smoke. It’s critical that elected officials support these life-saving solutions.
You can learn more about each of these solutions on the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids web site:
- Higher tobacco taxes – by making cigarettes and other tobacco products more expensive, we can keep kids from using them and encourage current tobacco users to quit.
- Laws requiring smoke-free workplaces and public places – these laws protect everyone from secondhand smoke and help reduce smoking.
- Well-funded programs – including television advertising campaigns – that convince young people not to use tobacco and encourage current tobacco users to quit.
- Regulations that restrict how tobacco products are made, marketed and sold. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration regulates tobacco products and has taken action to stop tobacco marketing and sales to kids.