'Around 90 percent of people who smoke started before age 18'
EUGENE, Ore. -- A new study found that if tobacco use continues at its current rate over 5 million American children will die early from smoking-related illnesses.
More than 20 million Americans have died from smoking over the last 50 years, and health officials say teens today are even more vulnerable than ever before.
"Around 90 percent of people who smoke started before the age of 18," said Jason Davis of Lane County Public Health.
A Eugene teen smoking during his lunch break at school says he started when he was 10 years old.
"All my buddies smoke. I just smoke with them," the high school student said. "I smoke about a pack and a half a day. Usually you just get a friend who is 18 to buy you a pack."
Davis says about 20 percent of county residents smoke, and an average of two Lane residents die each day from a tobacco related illness.
According to the Surgeon General, over 5 million American kids born in 2014 will die prematurely from second hand-smoke if smoking rates stay the same.
"Cigarettes that are produced these days have so many more additives than even 10, 20 years ago," said Davis.
Cigarettes generate about $20 million in revenue for Lane County each year. $250 million is spent on treatment for tobacco related illness in the county.
The government also funds programs designed to help those who would like to quit smoking.
"I mean, I'm not worried about it. I'm 15," the high school student told our news staff. "There are people who have been smoking for thirty years that aren't dying yet."