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More than 5.6 Million Children Will Die Prematurely Unless Smoking Rates Drop

Jan 17, 2014 03:58 PM EST

One of out of every 13 children under the age of 18 alive today will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases, a new report from the Surgeon General states.

In the 50 years since the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health was released, more than 20 million Americans have died from smoking, the report said, explaining that unless smoking rates drop, an estimated 5.6 children are on course to die from diseases tied to the habit.

"Smokers today have a greater risk of developing lung cancer than they did when the first Surgeon General's report was released in 1964, even though they smoke fewer cigarettes," said Acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak. "How cigarettes are made and the chemicals they contain have changed over the years, and some of those changes may be a factor in higher lung cancer risks."

Besides lung cancer, the new report adds colorectal and liver cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, age-related macular degeneration as well as other diseases to the list of those smoking can cause. Furthermore, the report states that secondhand smoke exposure can lead to strokes even in those who do not smoke.

"Of all forms of tobacco, cigarettes are the most deadly - and cause medical and financial burdens for millions of Americans," Lushniak said.

While youth smoking rates declined by half between 1997-2011, each day some 3,200 children under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette, according to the report. What's more, for every adult who dies prematurely from smoking, he or she is replaced by two youth and young adult smokers, it said.

"Today, we're asking Americans to join a sustained effort to make the next generation a tobacco-free generation," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

"This is not something the federal government can do alone. We need to partner with the business community, local elected officials, schools and universities, the medical community, the faith community, and committed citizens in communities across the country to make the next generation tobacco free."

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