More Young Adults Are Using Multiple Forms of Tobacco

More Young Adults Are Using Multiple Forms of Tobacco

More Young Adults Are Using Multiple Forms of Tobacco

More Young Adults Are Using Multiple Forms of TobaccoMuch of the focus on tobacco-related addiction and physical health issues falls on cigarettes, the single most widely used group of tobacco products in the U.S. However, use of other forms of tobacco—including cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco—also comes with serious addiction- and physical health-related consequences. In a study scheduled for publication in April 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from a group of federal and private institutions examined the question of how many American adults, teenagers and preteens use more than one form of tobacco, a practice known as polytobacco use. 

The Basics

All forms of commercially available tobacco products contain nicotine, a substance notable for its ability to produce the profound changes in daily brain chemistry required to establish physical dependence and addiction. However, nicotine addiction is not particularly troublesome on its own. Instead, doctors and public health officials try to prevent tobacco/nicotine use because of the severe potential health outcomes associated with regular exposure to the dozens of toxic and/or cancerous substances found in the tobacco products marketed to consumers. According to figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco-related medical expenditures in the U.S. stand at a minimum of $133 billion per year. Specific illnesses scientifically linked to smoking or other forms of tobacco use include cancer in nearly every major organ system within the body, type 2 diabetes, emphysema and chronic bronchitis (known together as COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), strokes and heart disease. Statistically speaking, habitual smokers die about a decade sooner than non-smokers.

Rates of Tobacco Use

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration tracks tobacco use among Americans age 12 and older through an annual, nationwide undertaking called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The most recent figures from this survey (gathered for 2012) indicate that, in any given month, 26.7 percent of all people in the target age range use some sort of tobacco. By far, the single highest rate of use (22.1 percent) is for cigarettes. Roughly 5.2 percent of people age 12 and older smoke cigars, and 3.5 percent of the individuals in this age range use some sort of smokeless tobacco. One percent of Americans over the age of 11 smoke pipe tobacco. While the general trend for smoking is down over the last decade, rates for other forms of tobacco use have remained relatively stable or even increased slightly.

Polytobacco Use

In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute used information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to determine how many people in the U.S. use more than one form of tobacco. Rather than examine data from just one year of the survey, they examined data collected over the decade between 2002 and 2011. The researchers undertook their project, in part, in direct response to the relative lack of information previously gathered on the extent of polytobacco use in the U.S.

In 2002, 8.7 percent of Americans 12 and older used at least two forms of tobacco. By the year 2011, the rate of polytobacco use in this broad age group stood at 7.4 percent. From a statistical point of view, the researchers concluded that this degree of change was not significant. However, they also concluded that the combined use of certain forms of tobacco has gone up significantly. For example, compared to 2002, more people combined cigarette use with smokeless tobacco use in 2011; the combination of smokeless tobacco use and cigar use also became more common. The numbers of people using more than two forms of tobacco also rose during the decade under consideration. In addition, while the overall rate of polytobacco use fell slightly, the rate of polytobacco use among adults younger than 26 went up.

Significance and Considerations

The authors of the study published in Addictive Behaviors concluded that several factors increase the odds that any given individual will participate in polytobacco use. These factors include having a tendency to seek out highly stimulating experiences and having other personality characteristics that increase the likelihood of involvement in risky behaviors. The authors believe that studies similar to their own are needed to determine how much polytobacco use increases health risks and the chances for developing a nicotine addiction.

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