Five million of today's children will die of smoking-related illnesses in their later years if the current rate of tobacco use by young people continues, the U.S. surgeon general said Thursday.
Dr. Antonia Novello, in her first major address on smoking, said that more than 3,000 teen-agers become regular smokers each day. She accused cigarette companies of spending $3.3 billion annually to advertise and promote their products in ways that appeal to children and adolescents.
A spokeswoman for the Tobacco Institute said later that cigarette companies do not want children as customers.
"For decades, we have taken aggressive actions to keep cigarettes out of the hands of kids," Brennan Dawson said. She said advertising is not aimed at creating new smokers but at selling products to people who already smoke.
Novello's remarks were made at a conference to stop smoking among minors held by the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health National Advisory Committee. The program included speakers from the Pan American Health Organization, the Stop Teen-Age Addiction to Tobacco organization and educators and law enforcement officials.
Novello said that 44 states restrict the sale of tobacco products to minors. But she was critical of the enforcement of those laws, saying that only five states have been able to provide statistical information on violations.
She quoted an article in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. as saying that an estimated 1 billion packs of cigarettes are sold annually to children under age 18.
"Because only a very small percentage of smokers begin smoking as adults, efforts at prevention must focus on children," Novello said. "If current smoking rates were to continue in the United States . . . 5 million of the children now living in this country would die of smoking-related disease."