Cigarettes and all other tobacco products contain the highly addictive substance nicotine. As a result, many young people develop a dependence on cigarettes.
The result of cigarette smoking by young p[eople is significant health problems including increasingly severe respiratory illness, lung damage and the associated potential effects on future lung development, and poor overall fitness.
Whilst this is bad, the real damage is done over the long term.
Most smokers develop their addiction to smoking in their adolescence- 87% tried their first cigarette by the time they were eighteen, and 95% had smoked their first by the age of twenty-one.
With addiction comes long-term health problems that could very possibly turn fatal.
Developing an understanding of the trends in youth tobacco use is important in the fight to end the US tobacco epidemic.
So, in this article, we’ll be looking at youth tobacco use, and in particular how many young people start smoking for the first time each day.
How Many Young Americans Try Smoking For The First Time Every Day?
It’s a well-known fact that the use of tobacco products is started and established for the most part during adolescence.
That’s why it’s so important to try to prevent people from experimenting with smoking in their formative years- 99% of daily smokers had smoked their first cigarette by the time they were 26.
According to the CDC, roughly 1600 young Americans try their first cigarette every day. 200 of those are deemed to have begun smoking in earnest each day.
Those figures come from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The American Lung Association posts higher figures.
According to them, nearly 2,500 Americans under the age of 18 try their first cigarette every day, with more than 400 of them going on to become new daily smokers.
Happily, their figures come from the 2015 edition of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, indicating a trend in the right direction.
Indeed, the trend has been going in the right direction for decades. Compare those figures with figures published by a 1999 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
They found that somewhere between 4800 and 5500 youth experimented with cigarettes for the first time every day, with close to 3000 becoming regular smokers every single day.
The Tragedy of Tobacco Use Amongst Adolescents
Whilst the trend is clearly headed in the right direction, there is still much to do.
The tragedy of adolescent smoking is that studies show people who begin smoking at a young age are far more likely to develop a severe addiction to nicotine than those who start at a later stage.
Many teen smokers don’t want to smoke, either. Of young people who have smoked a hundred or more cigarettes in their lifetime, most of them indicated that they would like to quit but for whatever reason felt unable to do so.
Nearly half of those who become new daily smokers will ultimately be killed by their habit.
If we accept the 2018 figures that 200 young people become established smokers every day, that’s 73,000 new daily smokers over the course of a year.
That means nearly 36,500 future deaths from smoking are baked into the system every year.
At the current rate, some 5.6 million of today’s young Americans will die early from smoking-related illnesses- that’s approximately 1 in 13 of every American aged seventeen or younger.
Trends In Youth Tobacco Product Use
Whilst the trend for cigarette smoking is positive, that doesn’t necessarily mean that tobacco products, on the whole, are becoming less popular- many young Americans are simply switching away from traditional combustible tobacco products to e-cigarettes.
According to CDC surveys, e-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product amongst high school students since 2014, with about 1 in 9 high school students (11.3%) reporting use of an e-cigarette in the previous thirty days in the most recent 2021 survey.
This represented the vast majority of the survey respondents who indicated that they used any tobacco product, which came in at 13.4%.
Cigarettes, by comparison, were far less popular, with nearly 2 out of every one hundred high school students (1.9%) reporting smoking cigarettes in the previous thirty days.
In all, the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that youth tobacco use remains a serious public health concern, with about 2.55 million middle and high school students reporting current use of a tobacco product.
Factors Associated With Youth Tobacco Product Use
Multiple different factors continue to drive youth tobacco use in the United States.
Amongst them is the rise of flavored tobacco products, which with their sweet flavors appeal more to children and young people than traditional tobacco products.
Of the 2.55 million middle school and high school students currently using tobacco products, 1.95 million, or about eight in ten, used flavored tobacco products.
This included 85.8% of high school students who had used an e-cigarette in the previous thirty days.
Although cigarette commercials have long since been banned, traditional media still functions as an advertising platform for tobacco products.
Roughly 76% of young Americans reported seeing tobacco product advertisements through that medium, whilst 74% using social media had seen advertisements for tobacco products on those platforms.
Peer use and curiosity were the most cited reasons amongst young people for first trying cigarettes, but the most cited reasons amongst current users were feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression and the nicotine buzz that can be achieved by using tobacco products.
Other factors associated with youth use of tobacco products include peer pressure, low socio-economic status, lack of family support structures, and poor academic performance and self-esteem.
Interestingly, there is some evidence that biology is a factor in youth use of tobacco products.
Some evidence suggests that young people are more sensitive to nicotine (and may become dependent sooner) and furthermore genetic factors may make quitting tobacco products more difficult.
According to the CDC, approximately 1600 people try their first cigarette every day, of which about 200 will go on to become regular daily smokers.
This represents the continuation of a downward trend in recent years. However, part of that decrease has been driven by a switch towards e-cigarettes, which are currently used by about 1 in 9 high schoolers in the US.