Public health leaders, policy makers and biopychosocial researchers all have roles to play in understanding, improving and changing health behaviors. This week's Inside Health Care round-up looks to all three for answers about the increasing smoking rates of U.S. youth.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin released an alarming report about teenage smoking last week, calling it an epidemic. Julie Steenhuysen for Reuters Health noted that according to the report, 'an estimated 3,800 kids pick up their first cigarette every day,' meaning that for every one of the 1,200 tobacco-related deaths that occur daily in the U.S., 'two new 'replacement' smokers under the age of 25 take up the habit." The Surgeon General's report also calls for more youth-targeted smoking prevention programs and warned about tobacco advertising targeted to the youth market.
The Chicago Tribune's editorial board, in response to Dr. Benjamin's report, advised that teens have always had the ability to tune preachy messages out. 'Smoking is often an act of youthful rebellion, and it's the nature of rebellious youth that the more they are told something is bad for them, the more they want to do it. Efforts to inform kids about the hazards of tobacco are worthwhile, but only among kids who are open to such messages. The editorial board urges the government to adopt a more practical tactic: raising the cost of cigarettes.
A recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that children who go through puberty earlier than their peers are more likely to smoke cigarettes in 9th and 12th grades. And among girls, smoking and poor social skills were also correlated. Researchers suggest that in addition to social stresses, the hormonal changes associated with puberty may affect children's judgment, making them more likely to smoke. 'They're not really able to control their social situations and they may not make friends as easily. That puts them at greater risk for smoking and other substance use,' said Erika Westling, PhD, the study's lead author.