Despite restrictions, tobacco advertising continues to persuade teenagers and young adults to take up smoking, according to a report released by the U.S. Surgeon General last week. But the report also finds that current policies are effective in reducing the initiation, prevalence and intensity of smoking among that demographic.
Nearly all adults who are currently daily smokers tried their first cigarette before they turned 18, according to the surgeon general's report. About one in four teenagers smoke regularly, a statistic that doesn't surprise local students.
Local students say there's a lot of exposure to cigarettes among their generation, so much so that it's not a shock to see a friend lighting up after school.
"It's not a big deal to teenagers," said Melissa Nguyen, 15.
Others say its a call to rebellion, going against the advice of parents and health officials.
"You only live once, like they say," said Lisette James, 16.
But athletes tend to shy away from cigarettes because the smoke interferes with their lung performance. As swimmers, both girls choose not to smoke.
But where do teenagers get cigarettes, since they are not yet old enough to purchase them? Some sneak them away from their parents or share with older friends. Others hope their height or a more mature appearance will help them slip under the radar and pass for 18 or 19 years old.
A young man who gave his name as Soaring Womble considers himself to be an occasional smoker at 17 years old.
"Some kids smoke all the time, they think they really need to. I think that addiction is all mental. It'll hurt them in the long run," said Womble.
Kenny, 22, declined to give his last name and has smoked regularly since he was 15. He started because a group of friends picked up the habit and he didn't want to be the only one who didn't smoke. He finds himself out of breath after smoking.
"Obviously it's a bad habit, but some people choose to follow old traditions," he said.
The group from Tokay High School said a bigger problem is smoking marijuana, since many teenagers think it is less harmful than tobacco.
While the report mentions marijuana use, the evidence suggests that smoking is a kind of gateway to marijuana use. Dependent smokers are at a greater risk of marijuana use than nonsmokers and non-dependent smoking, according to the report.
University of California, Merced professor Anna Song contributed to a chapter of the report regarding advertising. She and her collaborative team found evidence that tabbacco companies like R.J. Reynolds develop their marketing to appeal to the trendy hipster persona.
"We tend to think that just because Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man are gone, youths are protected from tobacco marketing and advertising — this is not the case," Song said. "There is strong evidence demonstrating that youths are still influenced by tobacco ads and marketing campaigns, even if they are not obviously directed towards them. These marketing efforts are very effective in getting young people to feel positively towards cigarettes and cigarette brands and start smoking."
Prevention efforts are most effective when focused on teens and young adults. Successful prevention campaigns include several pieces. Mass media campaigns and price increases have both had promising results. School-based programs and community wide smoke-free regulations are also considered effective, according to the report.