(Girl considering a cigarette)

More Latinos are smoking at a younger age, says report

Young Latinos are getting the message about smoking. But not the right message. In the first U.S. surgeon general’s report on youth tobacco use since 1994, the research shows young Latinos are trying smoking at higher rates than before.

“For the first time, we are seeing Latino youth experimenting with tobacco at younger ages,” says Dr. Jeannette Noltenius, the national director of the National Latino Tobacco Control Network. “It used to be that only 20 percent of our youth had tried smoking, but now it is one out of three Latino youth who have smoked,” she adds.

Dr. Noltenius says the report shows more Latino middle schoolers are starting to smoke earlier.  Among 9-10th graders, 54 percent of Latino boys and 47 percent of Latina girls have ever smoked, which is higher than the 51 percent average for all groups.  These numbers shows a disturbing trend, says Dr. Noltenius, one in which girls are trying to smoke at almost the same levels as boys.     

“It used to be Latinas did not smoke, they didn’t smoke out of respect for their parents, but that is not the case anymore, the cultural barriers that protected Latinas from smoking is gone,” says Dr. Noltenius. 

The report also shows at least half of Hispanic tobacco users and nearly half of Hispanic female users smoke and chew tobacco. The problem with this number, says Dr. Noltenius, is that smokeless tobacco not only gives you a “higher high” but it contains more milligrams of nicotine than cigarettes, about 3 milligrams versus 1.4.

It is a more addictive product. Smokeless tobacco comes in containers that look like tic-tac boxes so they go undetected in schools and at home, so parents don’t realize what it is,” explains Dr. Noltenius. 

The research shows that Latino children are actually using multiple smoking products, such as cigars and cigarillos. They are usually cheaper than a pack of cigarettes and are sold in pairs. Chewing tobacco often comes in different flavors too, which can be more appealing to children.

The danger, says Dr. Noltenius, is that the younger one starts smoking the more addicted one becomes. Out of 10 smokers, 99 percent started smoking before the age of 25, so preventing children from smoking is the key to a healthier adult.

The report also said the tobacco industry’s $10 billion in annual marketing encourages youth to smoke, but representatives of the tobacco industry repudiated those claims and said they only market to adults.

Dr. Noltenius disagrees and offers preventive solutions. “We need smoke-free apartment buildings, smoke-free parks for example, and make smoking products so expensive that children will not be able to buy them.” 

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