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1 in 5 US high school-aged teens smokes

March 8, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Despite decades of anti-smoking education, one in five high school-aged teens in the United States still smokes.

More work needs to be done to keep young Americans from using tobacco, including creating smoking bans and increasing taxes on tobacco products, the U.S. Surgeon General's office said in a report released Thursday.

According to Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., and the nation must find a way to stop young people from using tobacco.

"Everyday 1,200 Americans die from smoking and each of those people are being replaced by two young smokers," Benjamin said.

More than 80 percent of smokers begin smoking by 18 years old and 99 percent of adult smokers started the habit by the time they were 26.

"The younger a child is when they try cigarettes the more likely they are to get and stay addicted to nicotine," said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

Today, more than 600,000 middle school students and 3 million high school students smoke.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.