ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The average age for a new smoker in New York is as young as 13 years old, according to the New York State Department of Health. Which is why one local organization is highlighting the need to protect children from tobacco use.

The Capital District Tobacco Free Communities is observing its fifth “Seen Enough Tobacco Day”. Seen Enough Tobacco Day was created to make people aware of how, according to program director Jeanie Orr, children can easily be influenced into tobacco usage.

“We know it is still right around 13 [the average age of a new smoker], which is young enough,” says Orr, “of course we run into people who started [smoking] as young as nine. That’s [13] the average and people start a little later.” Orr says around 90 percent of adult smokers started smoking before they were 18 years old.

Tobacco Free NY, which the Capital District Tobacco Free Communities is a part of, ultimate goal is to prevent youth from ever starting to use tobacco products, according to program specialist Lauren Sears. As of 2020, the New York State Department of Health reports a decrease in both traditional and e-cigarette usage across the board, including in high schoolers.

The state also reports the number of high school aged traditional cigarette smokers is down to less than 3 percent, while e-cigarette usage remains somewhat on the higher end at 22.5 percent. That’s down, according to Orr, from 27 percent in 2018.

Orr believes, among other things, the state’s ban on flavored e-cigarettes last year is contributing to the lower numbers among teens saying, “kids just aren’t into smoking regular cigarettes. They like the flavors. We know with this youth epidemic with e-cigarette use, if there weren’t mango and strawberry and all these other flavors out there, it’s not likely they would have picked it up.” 

According to the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco usage remains the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the United States. The Capital District Tobacco Free Communities says it is time to “finish flavors” “because we know that menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products make it easier to start and harder to quit, we are laser-focused on educating about the negative impact of flavored tobacco.