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Why parents should care about the latest Surgeon General report on smoking

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  January 30, 2014 07:58 AM

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50 years after the first report warned us about the dangers of tobacco, the current Surgeon General has issued a new report, telling us it's even more dangerous than we realized.

If anyone needs to listen to the messages of this report, it's parents.

Our job as parents isn't just to bring kids into the world. It's also our job to raise them to be healthy, happy, positive contributors to society. That's why we need to do everything we can to stop them from starting smoking. Most (87 percent) first use of cigarettes happens by age 18, and nearly all (98 percent) by age 26. We have got to get the message to our children that tobacco is really dangerous. Along with the cancer, cardiovascular and lung disease we knew it caused, the latest report links it to:
  • eye degeneration
  • birth defects
  • a higher risk of tuberculosis
  • diabetes
  • ectopic pregnancy
  • erectile dysfunction
  • liver and colorectal cancer
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • immune problems
There is nothing worse than losing a child--especially when the death was preventable. Since the first report in 1964, there have been more than 20 million preventable deaths linked to tobacco. It is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

Here's a scary line from the report: "If current trends continue, 5.6 million US youth who are currently younger than 18 years of age will die prematurely during adulthood from their smoking."

You really don't want your child to be one of them.

It's not just the smoke--nicotine is a problem too. The report talks about how it can affect the developing brain, including the brains of adolescents, in ways that may be permanent. This is particularly important with the rise of "e-cigarettes", many of which contain nicotine. While e-cigarettes might help some smokers quit, it's really important that youth not start using them. The use of e-cigarettes has doubled among middle-and high-school students, so we have got our work cut out for us.

Even if your kid doesn't smoke and you feel confident they won't start, you need to care about this report--because all of us get exposed, at some point or another (some of us more than others) to secondhand smoke. The report makes it very clear that secondhand smoke can be deadly. In children, it causes ear infections, lung problems (such as asthma attacks), pneumonias and sudden death in infants. In adults, it causes cancer, heart disease and stroke--and if pregnant women are exposed, it can cause their babies to be born small.

Bad stuff.

There are also real dollar costs associated with smoking. The annual costs attributable to smoking in the US are between $289 and 333 billion, when you include direct medical costs and lost productivity due to premature death (from both smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke). These are dollars that might have gone to your child's schools, to your community, to health care and other things that make a difference in your family's life. 

Here's what you can do:
  • Talk to your kids, early and often, about the dangers of all forms of tobacco and nicotine. Have rules and expectations--and consequences if they use any. Find out if their friends smoke, because it makes it more likely that they will start. For more information and for ideas on what you can do, visit the Smoking and Tobacco page of the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Support any legislation or initiatives that make it more difficult for people to smoke, especially youth.
  • Support funding for anti-tobacco initiatives. Whatever they cost, it's going to be way less than $289 billion.
This is about your children's future. Read the report. Take action.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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