Coalition on Smoking OR Health

1150 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 820, Washington, DC 20036

Telephone: (202) 452-1184 Facsimile: (202) 452-1417


The tobacco industry must constantly recruit new smokers to replace the nearly 420,000 who die each year; their main target is our nation's children.


"Nicotine addiction begins when most tobacco users are teenagers, so let's call this what it really is: a pediatric disease."

- David Kessler, M.D.

Conunissioner of the Food and Drug Administration


According to the 1994 Surgeon General's Report, "Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People":

* Everyday approximately 3,000 young people start smoking -- up to half of them become addicted.

* 90% of all smokers begin before age 18, more than one-third start before the age of fourteen. 67% of those who use smokeless tobacco begin before age 12.

* Today, at least 3.1 million adolescents smoke.


Once young people start using tobacco products, it becomes hard to stop; a 1988 Surgeon General's report found that the nicotine in tobacco is as addictive as heroin or cocaine.

Most young smokers want to quit but are unable to do so. 84% of 12-17 year-olds who smoke one or more packs of cigarettes per day report feeling dependent on cigarettes.

o 70% of those who smoked during high school are still smoking five years later.


* Young smokers are susceptible to significant health problems, including decreased physical fitness, respiratory illnesses, early development of artery disease, and reduced lung development which may decrease the normal level of lung function.

* Rates of tobacco related illnesses are higher for people who begin smoking when they are young. These illnesses include lung cancer, emphysema, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

* Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States; it is responsible for 1 out of every 5 deaths each year.


On the federal level, in 1992 the Congress passed the "Synar Amendment," a policy designed to discourage tobacco use among young people. This law encourages states to enact and enforce comprehensive laws to prohibit the sale and distribution of tobacco products to individuals under 18 years of age. States that do not comply will be denied full block grant funds for substance abuse prevention and treatment.

On the state level, all 50 states and the District of Columbia ban sales of tobacco products to individuals who are, at a minimum, under the age of 18.


Unfortunately, current laws are rarely enforced.

A study in the February 1994 issue of the American Journal of Public Health found that 91 % of all cigarettes smoked by teenagers are sold to minors. In 1991, an estimated 255 million packs of cigarettes were sold illegally to young people.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of young people who purchase cigarettes, 84.5 % reported they often or sometimes purchased cigarettes from small stores, 49.5 % made the same claim about purchase from large stores, and 14.5% sometimes or often obtained cigarettes from vending machines.


The Coalition on Smoking OR Health recommends that each state enact comprehensive laws restricting youth access to tobacco products. A group of 27 state Attorneys General and the Coalition prescribe legislative remedies such as:

  1. strict licensing provisions for tobacco retailers. including penalties for those who sell to minors;
  2. prohibiting placement of tobacco vending machines in areas accessible to minors;
  3. banning the distribution of free tobacco product samples;
  4. forbidding the sale of single cigarettes;
  5. requiring all tobacco products to be placed behind sales counters;
  6. significantly increasing the excise tax on tobacco products;
  7. allowing localities to enact stricter legislation, if they wish.

    These solutions are effective and popular.

    A 1994 survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the American public strongly supports measures that would prohibit cigarette vending machines accessible to kids (91 %), ban distribution of free cigarettes in public (88%), forbid the sale of single cigarettes (82%) and require tobacco products to be placed behind sales counters (78%).

    Since the 1989 enactment of a comprehensive youth access ordinance in Woodridge, Illinois, teen smoking rates have dropped to half that of their cohorts around the country.