Alarming trend shows first-time smoking among young adults

July 9, 2018, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Alarming trend shows first-time smoking among young adults
UTHealth's Cheryl Perry, Ph.D., identifies alarming first-time smoking trend among young adults. Credit: UTHealth

Millennials living more dangerously and settling down later could be creating a new generation of addicted smokers and e-cigarette users, according to the surprising results of research by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

Statistics highlighted in today's article in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed greater numbers of new smokers and e-cigarette users among compared to adolescents, marking a reversal of previous social norms.

"Historically, it used to be that nearly everything started by age 18. That's no longer the case, as young are experimenting with things once more common during years. Young adults are starting to act like adolescents," said Cheryl Perry, Ph.D., senior author and professor and regional dean at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin.

Perry was the senior scientific editor of the 1994 Surgeon's General Report on Preventing Tobacco Use among Young People, which stated, "Tobacco use primarily begins in early adolescence, typically by age 16; almost all first use occurs before the time of high school graduation."

New statistics challenge this premise, revealing people are much more likely to start smoking as young adults rather than as adolescents. Using the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, analysis of cross-sectional data from 2006-2013 shows the rate of onset of cigarette smoking among young adults (6.3 percent) was more than three times higher than onset among adolescents (1.9 percent) during this time.

"Last summer I saw these statistics and asked, 'Is this really true—a quarter of a century later, the conclusion about first use is now wrong?' It's potentially a watershed situation, which could have very alarming health implications," said Perry, who is part of the School of Public Health Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living.

The current paper examined data from both national and state studies to identify trends in tobacco and tobacco-related product usage over one year. In all cases, young adults were significantly more likely than youth to both have ever tried and be a current user of cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes and hookah.

"The fact that Texan cohorts looked the same nationally makes this evidence of later onset more compelling. It indicates a massive cultural shift, relating to a behavior that still kills half of its regular customers," said Perry, who holds the Rockwell Distinguished Chair in Society and Health.

Activities traditionally associated with being a teenager, such as hanging out with friends, drinking alcohol, wanting to get a driver's license and going on a date have become less popular in that age group. There has also been major policy change, including the implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Charged with reducing tobacco use among adolescents under age 18, it gave the Food and Drug Administration the authority in 2009 to regulate the manufacturing, distribution and marketing of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, which was extended to all in 2016.

Banning various flavors of cigarettes and sponsorship at entertainment or sports events, and prohibiting free sampling of tobacco products and non-tobacco branded items are among the measures, which the study theorizes could explain why among high school students, from 2011 to 2016, the use of cigarettes, cigars and significantly decreased. Retailer compliance in prohibiting the sale of tobacco to minors also increased to over 90 percent by 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In response, according to research cited in the paper, tobacco company marketing is more explicitly aimed at their youngest legal target group—young adults. According to the Federal Trade Commission cigarette report, price discounts accounted for the vast majority (80 percent) of cigarette marketing dollars in 2014 as tobacco companies try to attract price-sensitive young adults.

According to a growing body of research, young adults are putting off starting a career, getting married and having children. This could create a window of opportunity for risky behavior, the authors wrote. The report warns that if young adults are now at higher risk of starting to use tobacco, more attention to prevent this behavior before it turns into addiction will be vital to prevent tobacco-related diseases and deaths.

"The trend of delayed adolescence is very concerning because young adults are less monitored and more independent, so they are very prone to carrying on smoking and using other associated products, such as e-cigarettes. We need more research, including obtaining data on adults in their 30s, to see whether this is a part of seismic change," Perry said.

There are few prevention programs or policies focusing directly on young adults, the researchers wrote.

"If adolescence now extends to age 30, this makes the battle against tobacco much bigger and more complicated. Just when we thought we were nearing the end game, we might have been outsmarted. It's a challenge, which will demand new ways of trying to communicate with and influence young adults who may be much harder to reach than adolescents," she said.

Explore further: Fewer U.S. kids use tobacco, but numbers still too high: officials

More information: Cheryl L. Perry et al. Youth or Young Adults: Which Group Is at Highest Risk for Tobacco Use Onset?, Journal of Adolescent Health (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.04.011

Related Stories

Fewer U.S. kids use tobacco, but numbers still too high: officials

June 7, 2018
(HealthDay)—The number of U.S. middle and high school students who use tobacco fell from 4.5 million in 2011 to 3.6 million in 2017, but that number is still far too high, federal health officials reported Thursday.

Hookah responsible for over half of tobacco smoke inhaled by young smokers

May 17, 2018
Smoking tobacco from a waterpipe, also known as a hookah, accounted for over half of the tobacco smoke volume consumed by young adult hookah and cigarette smokers in the U.S., a new University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine ...

Non-cigarette tobacco use tied to future cigarette use in teens

January 4, 2018
(HealthDay)—Non-cigarette tobacco use is associated with subsequent cigarette smoking among U.S. adolescents, according to a study published online Jan. 2 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Receptivity to e-cigarette ads among young adults in the US leads to cigarette smoking

March 26, 2018
Receptivity to advertising for e-cigarettes, cigarettes and cigars were confirmed to be associated with those who would try the respective tobacco product within one year. However, receptivity to e-cigarette advertising also ...

Higher cigarette taxes may increase use of chewing tobacco and cigars in adolescents

February 14, 2018
Raising cigarette taxes to combat smoking may increase the use of cigars and smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco, in adolescents according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health, involving ...

Stall in e-cigarette use among youth, reflected in CDC survey, worrisome, says American Heart Association

June 8, 2018
American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following comments on the 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration's ...

Recommended for you

Eating iron-fortified grain improves students' attention, memory

July 18, 2018
Adolescent students in a rural school in India who consumed an iron-biofortified version of the grain pearl millet exhibited improved attention and memory compared to those who consumed conventional pearl millet, according ...

Lowering hospitals' Medicare costs proves difficult

July 18, 2018
A payment system that provides financial incentives for hospitals that reduce health-care costs for Medicare patients did not lower costs as intended, according to a new study led by Washington University School of Medicine ...

Vaping tied to blood clots—in mice

July 18, 2018
A new study involving mice raises another concern about the danger of e-cigarettes in humans after experiments showed that short-term exposure to the device's vapors appeared to increase the risk of clot formation.

People who tan in gyms tan more often, and more addictively, than others, new research shows

July 18, 2018
Gyms are places people go to get healthier. But nearly half the gyms in the U.S. contain a potentially addictive carcinogen—tanning beds, report UConn researchers in the July 18 issue of JAMA Dermatology.

Omega 3 supplements have little or no heart or vascular health benefit: review

July 17, 2018
New evidence published today shows there is little or no effect of omega 3 supplements on our risk of experiencing heart disease, stroke or death.

Study shows that people most affected by alcohol also most impacted by sleep deprivation

July 17, 2018
A team of researchers from the German Aerospace Center and Forschungszentrum Jülich has found that people who are most susceptible to alcohol intoxication are also most susceptible to cognitive problems due to sleep deprivation. ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Anonym518498
not rated yet Jul 09, 2018
Lady, it's the pot. Pot smoking goes hand-in-hand with cigarette smoking, just another 'positive' effect of the miracle weed

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.