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Publication date: 
May 31, 2021

Marissa Reitsma, Research Scientist, Lead Author: 2 of 3 new papers, IHME Tobacco Metrics Team
Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity

When I think about ending the tobacco epidemic, the importance of young people in that equation is really quite clear. The tobacco industry needs a steady stream of new smokers to initiate each year just to remain commercially viable. Young people face enormous social pressures as they navigate secondary school and the transition to adulthood which honestly leaves them vulnerable and particularly susceptible to addiction. This plays out in the data. We find that 90% of current smokers began smoking by the age of 25 and 20%, 1 in 5, began smoking regularly by the age of 15.

What our study adds is clear and consistent evidence from across the globe that if you can prevent smoking initiation among adolescents and young adults, there is just a very low likelihood that they would transition to become smokers later in life. The fact that initiation occurs during this very narrow age window also provides a clear opportunity for intervention. So if we can focus efforts on ensuring that young people remain tobacco-free through their mid-twenties, this will dramatically reduce smoking prevalence among the generation. In my mind, this is the opportunity and the path that we can take to achieve a tobacco-free future.