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Youth & Tobacco

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Almost 90 percent of adult daily smokers started smoking by the age of 18,1 and about 1500 youth under 18 smoke their first cigarette every day in the United States.2 In fact, use of tobacco products, no matter what type, is almost always started and established during adolescence when the developing brain is most vulnerable to nicotine addiction.3,4

These facts highlight a critical need for targeted youth tobacco prevention efforts designed to protect America’s kids.

FDA's Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan

In 2017, the FDA announced a comprehensive plan for tobacco and nicotine regulation that places nicotine, and the issue of addiction, at the center of the agency's tobacco regulation efforts. This plan will serve as a multiyear roadmap to better protect kids and significantly reduce tobacco-related disease and death in the U.S. A key component of this plan is the Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan, which aims to stop youth use of, and access to, tobacco products—especially e-cigarettes.

Understanding Youth Tobacco Use in the U.S.

The FDA is committed to a science-based approach that addresses public health issues associated with tobacco use. That's why we collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health on the only nationally representative survey of middle and high school students that focuses exclusively on tobacco use—the National Youth Tobacco Survey. Results from this survey provide the FDA with some key national indicators of the effectiveness of comprehensive tobacco prevention and control programs.

Public Health Education to Reduce Youth Tobacco Use

Considering substantial evidence supporting mass media campaigns as an effective strategy to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use, FDA developed and launched its first tobacco prevention campaign, “The Real Cost." The award-winning campaign has been extremely successful in reaching at-risk youth with messages about the dangers of cigarette smoking. From its launch in Feb. 2014 to Nov. 2016, “The Real Cost” prevented up to 587,000 youth ages 11 to 19 from initiating smoking, half of whom might have gone on to become established adult smokers. Ultimately, by preventing these kids from becoming established smokers, the campaign will save them, their families, and the country more than $53 billion by reducing smoking-related costs like early loss of life, costly medical care, lost wages, lower productivity, and increased disability – that’s more than $180,000 in savings for each of the up to 293,500 youth that would likely have become an established smoker. The FDA also has developed additional public education campaigns designed to prevent and reduce tobacco use in the United States.

Flavored Tobacco

FDA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek public comment on the role that flavors in tobacco products—including menthol—play in attracting youth. The agency already banned certain characterizing flavors in cigarettes in 2009, including fruit and clove, because of their appeal to youth. The agency's national effort to enforce this provision of the Tobacco Control Act and to advise parents about the dangers of flavored tobacco products was one of its important first steps toward responsible tobacco regulation to protect youth.

Regulations Restricting the Sale and Distribution of Tobacco Products to Protect Children and Adolescents

Since 2009, the FDA has regulated cigarettes, smokeless, and roll-your-own tobacco. In 2016, the FDA finalized a rule to regulate all tobacco products, including:

  • E-cigarettes/electronic cigarettes/vaporizers
  • Cigars
  • Hookah (waterpipe tobacco)
  • Pipe tobacco
  • Nicotine gels
  • Dissolvables

These rules protect children and adolescents by restricting youth access to all tobacco products by:

  • Not allowing products to be sold to anyone younger than 18 and requiring age verification via photo ID
  • Not allowing tobacco products to be sold in vending machines (unless in an adult-only facility)
  • Not allowing the distribution of free samples of tobacco products

Resources for Professionals

FDA created a toolkit, Resources for Professionals About Vaping & E-Cigarettes, for adults and professionals who work with youth. This FREE resource provides fast facts about youth vaping and e-cigarettes.

Resources for Parents

Audience: Public Health Professionals, Retailers, Manufacturers, Family & Advocates

Topics: Cigarettes, E-Cigarettes & Vaping, Other Tobacco Products, Science & Research, Tobacco Product Laws