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Teen Cigarette Smoking Linked to Marijuana

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WASHINGTON, Sep 17, 2003 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Public health advocates want the Bush administration to emphasize cutting teen smoking by half as part of the effort to reduce marijuana use in the war on drugs.

A new report released this week by the American Legacy Foundation and the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York found a 50 percent reduction in teen smoking could result in a 16 percent to 28 percent drop in teen marijuana use.

The survey, based on interviews with 1,987 girls and boys ages 12 to 17, found 60 percent of repeat marijuana users smoked cigarettes first before engaging in illegal drug use. Teens who smoked cigarettes were 14 times more likely than those who never smoked cigarettes to try marijuana.

"President George W. Bush committed last year to reduce the use of all illegal drugs by 10 percent over two years and 25 percent over five years," Joseph A. Califano, Jr. chairman and president of Columbia's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, told a news conference. "Because of its widespread use, the only way to achieve such reductions is to cut marijuana smoking significantly. This new report shows that attacking teen cigarette smoking is critical to attaining the administration's goal."

The survey, financed by the American Legacy Foundation, showed 57 percent of teens who tried marijuana had smoked cigarettes first. Teen cigarette smokers were six times more likely to be able to buy marijuana in an hour or less, compared to kids who never smoked. Kids who smoked also were 18 times more likely to report that most of their friends smoked marijuana when compared to kids who didn't touch cigarettes.

Even teens themselves recognized the strong link between cigarettes and marijuana. The survey found 77 percent believed a teen who smoked cigarettes likely would experiment with marijuana.

Califano said there also was a physical explanation why teen cigarette smokers showed a higher incidence of marijuana use.

"Their lungs get used to inhaling something," he said. "They don't gag on their first inhalation whereas kids (who don't smoke cigarettes and) who smoke marijuana for the first time gag."

Dr. Cheryl G. Healton, president and chief executive officer of the American Legacy Foundation in Washington, said it is critical to get teens to quit smoking before they get hooked and before cigarette smoking opens the door to other types of drug use.

"Of those who start smoking, one-third (of teens) never stop," Healton said.

A lifetime of smoking that begins in adolescence costs an individual an average of 14 years in life due to premature death.

"This underscores -- for parents, teachers, policymakers and anyone else concerned with the welfare of American children -- the importance of intervening to end cigarette smoking in order to help prevent other drug use," Healton said.

Healton added the findings come at a critical time for the American Legacy Foundation, an organization created and financed as a result of the historic multi-billion-dollar settlement with the tobacco industry in 1998.

The foundation funds a popular anti-tobacco campaign seen frequently on television called "The Truth Campaign," which depicts dramatic scenes illustrating how tobacco kills. Healton said the episodes are designed to hit the message home to teenagers but could end because of dwindling resources.

"The Truth Campaign faces the likelihood of running out," Healton said. "We have likely seen the end of (our) public education fund. All of our gains will be lost if we are forced to cut back."

Copyright 2003 by United Press International.

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