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Cancer Trends Progress Report – 2009/2010 Update

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In the Report
Summary Tables
> Age at Smoking Initiation
Youth Smoking
Adult Smoking
Quitting Smoking
Clinicians’ Advice to Quit Smoking
Medicaid Coverage of Tobacco Dependence Treatments
Fruit and Vegetable Consumption
Red Meat Consumption
Fat Consumption
Alcohol Consumption
Physical Activity
Sun Protection
Secondhand Smoke
Tobacco Company Marketing Expenditures
Early Detection
Life After Cancer
End of Life

Age at Smoking Initiation
Prevention: Behavioral Factors

The average age at which people first begin smoking has risen slightly among the youngest cohort (those aged 12–17 years) but has not changed among young adults (those aged 18–25 years).

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Age at Smoking Initiation and Cancer

The younger a person starts smoking, the greater the lifelong risk of developing smoking-related cancers. That is because young smokers are more likely to become addicted, and the more years a person smokes, the greater the risk of cancer.

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Average age of first use of cigarettes, based on responses from people aged 12–17 and 18–25 who said they had initiated smoking during the past 12 months.

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Period – 2002–2008

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Age 12–17: Rising slightly from 2002–2008 (data shown only for this period given change in methodology).
Age 18–25: Stable from 2002–2008 (data shown only for this period given change in methodology).

There is no change in trend by race/ethnicity, by gender, or by poverty level.

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Most Recent Estimates

In 2008, the average age at first use among those aged 12–17 years was 15.1 years. Among those aged 18–25 years, the average age of first use was 18.9 years.

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Healthy People 2010 Targets

Increase the average age at first use of cigarettes to:

  • 17.6 years of age for the 12–17 age group
  • 20.9 years of age for the 18–25 age group

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Groups at High Risk for Beginning Smoking

Overall, Blacks have lower smoking initiation rates during adolescence than Whites and Hispanics. Blacks begin regular smoking primarily after the age of 18. Hispanics have an earlier onset of cigarette smoking than Asians/Pacific Islanders and Blacks, while they have a higher but similar age of initiation compared with Whites.

Young people who come from low-income families or families with less education are more likely to smoke. So are those who have less success and involvement in school and fewer skills to resist the pervasive pressures to use tobacco. Tendencies to take risks and rebel are among the other risk factors for beginning smoking.

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Key Issues

Most smokers try their first cigarette before the age of 18 and become addicted during adolescence. Studies of smokers have indicated that the younger the age of smoking initiation, the greater the risk for development of nicotine dependence. Efforts to help young people delay or, even better, avoid smoking should help to prevent many cancers.

A study examining high school graduates one year after graduation found that, among those who were “never smokers” in 12th grade, 25 percent had begun smoking. Among 12th grade smokers, 39 percent had increased their cigarette use. Efforts to reduce smoking among adolescents should be extended to young adults because smoking initiation extends into young adulthood. Particular attention needs to be paid to those young adults not enrolled in college since they have the higher smoking rates compared to those enrolled in college.

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Additional Information on Age at Smoking Initiation

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Back: Prevention

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