World No Tobacco Day: Protect Our Youth

Montage of young people of various ethnicities having fun

Using any kind of tobacco product is unsafe, especially for kids, teens, and young adults. But worldwide, at least 14 million young people age 13 to 15 currently use tobacco products, according to CDC’s 2006-2017 Global Youth Tobacco Survey. Tobacco companies, meanwhile, spend billions of dollars every year on marketing tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, and others.

Since 1988, the World Health Organization (WHO) has used World No Tobacco Dayexternal icon to highlight the harmful effects of cigarettes and other tobacco products on a person’s overall health. This year, WHO is focusing on preventing youth tobacco product use and the tobacco industry’s attempts to attract youth.

This World No Tobacco Day, learn what individuals and communities can do to help keep young people tobacco-free, or help them quit for good.

U.S. Youth and Tobacco: The Numbers

In 2019, about 40% of U.S. middle and high schoolers reported ever using any kind of tobacco product—including e-cigarettes—and 23% said they had used a tobacco product in the past 30 days.

Studies show that most adults in the United States who regularly use tobacco products started before the age of 18. Using any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe for young people. Tobacco products—including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and most e-cigarettes—contain nicotine, which is an addictive drug. Being exposed to nicotine can also harm brain development, which continues through the teen years and up to age 25. Exposure to nicotine during these important years can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.

Secondhand Smoke—A Danger at Home and Abroad
  • At least 500 million people younger than 15 in 21 countries are exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • It’s a problem in the United States:
    • 1 in 4 Americans, or about 58 million people, are exposed to secondhand smoke.
    • Children (age 3–11) have the highest exposure to secondhand smoke compared to any other age group.
    • African American children are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke than children of other racial/ethnic groups.
  • Quitting smoking and adopting smoke-free policies helps protect the health of people who do not smoke.

The younger a person starts using tobacco products, the more likely they are to become dependent on nicotine. The tobacco industry uses this information to attract youth and young people to their products through ads and sponsorships in stores, online, in media, and at cultural events.

Studies in the U.S. and other countries have shown that the more ads for tobacco products a young person sees, the more likely they are to use tobacco products. The U.S. Surgeon General has also said that seeing people smoke in movies makes youth more likely to smoke. Although the number of movies rated PG-13 or lower that feature smoking has gone down in the past 15 years, the films that do show smoking show it more often.

The flavors in tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, make these products appealing to kids and teens. Since 2009, tobacco companies have not been allowed to sell cigarettes in flavors other than menthol in the U.S. Still, youth are more likely than adults to smoke menthol cigarettes. Flavoring is also a major driver of e-cigarette use among young people. More than 2 out of 3 youth who currently use e-cigarettes use flavored e-cigarettes, and flavors are a major reason they report starting to use e-cigarettes.

The Danger of E-Cigarettes for Youth

Since 2014, most U.S. youth who said they had ever used tobacco products reported using e-cigarettes, and the percentage has grown over time. E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine, and newer e-cigarettes use a new form of it called nicotine salts, which make it easier to inhale higher levels of nicotine.

Because of the recent rise in e-cigarette use by US middle and high school students, CDC offers resources for parents pdf icon[PDF–832 KB], teachers pdf icon[PDF–814 KB], and healthcare providers pdf icon[PDF–826 KB] to help them talk to kids about e-cigarettes.

What You Can Do
Teenagers reaching to touch the world

Everyone—from those who influence youth directly to whole communities—can help prevent children, teenagers, and young adults from trying and using tobacco products.

Parents and other caregivers can:

  • Set a good example by being tobacco-free (call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit smokefree.govexternal icon for help with quitting)
  • Talk to kids about the harms of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes
  • Know what children watch, and talk about tobacco use onscreen
  • Tell kids you expect them not to use tobacco products, or to stop using them
  • Refuse to give tobacco products to kids, teens, or young adults

The Office of the Surgeon General has more tips for parents and caregivers pdf icon[PDF–5 MB]external icon to help keep young people tobacco-free.

Healthcare providers can:

  • Talk to their patients about the dangers of tobacco use (in a 2015 survey, only 1 out of 3 U.S. high schoolers said their doctor brought up smoking during a visit)
  • Ask patients if they use tobacco products, and advise them to quit

CDC offers resources and tools to help providers start the conversation about tobacco and quitting.

States and communities can:

  • Fund state tobacco control programs at the level CDC recommends
  • Work to limit tobacco product advertising
  • Use science-based strategies to prevent and reduce tobacco use, like tobacco price increases, hard-hitting media campaigns, adopting comprehensive smoke-free laws, licensing tobacco sellers, and limiting where tobacco products can be sold
  • Provide barrier-free access to treatments proven to help people quit

If everyone works together to keep youth safe from the harms of tobacco use, we can move further toward a healthier, smoke-free world.

Quitting Resources for Youth

In 2019, more than half of current youth tobacco product users in the U.S. reported that they were seriously thinking about quitting the use of all tobacco products. Quitting as soon as possible is the healthiest choice for mind and body.

  • Your state quitline can connect you to resources like text support, counseling, and web-based chat. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOWexternal icon to find out what your state offers. There are also quitlines available in Spanish, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Korean, and Vietnamese.
    • 1-855-DÉJELO-YAexternal icon (Spanish)
    • Asian Smokers’ Quitline
      • 1-800-838-8917 (Cantonese & Mandarin)
      • 1-800-556-5564 (Korean)
      • 1-800-778-8440 (Vietnamese)
  • SmokefreeTXT for Teensexternal icon is a free mobile text messaging program for youth aged 13 to 19.
  • Download the quitSTART appexternal icon on your phone for custom tips, inspiration, and challenges
Quitting Resources for Adults

At any age, it’s never too late to quit. U.S. adults who want to quit can call 1-800-QUIT-NOWexternal icon or

  • 1-855-DÉJELO-YAexternal icon (Spanish)
  • Asian Smokers’ Quitline
    • 1-800-838-8917 (Cantonese & Mandarin)
    • 1-800-556-5564 (Korean)
    • 1-800-778-8440 (Vietnamese)

Visit CDC.gov/Quit or Smokefree.govexternal icon, where you can sign up for texting programs and download mobile apps.