Tobacco use trends in California among the young are raising some red flags at the state Department of Public Health. Nearly nine percent of stores statewide illegally sold to minors. That's up from 5.6 percent the previous year. And 18 to 24-year-olds are now smoking more than any other age group in California.
"Youth and young adults get addicted to tobacco, end up smoking their entire lives, and then they and their families suffer the consequences," DPH Director Dr. Ron Chapman said.
The state projects it'll spend $6.5 billion this year to deal with adult health care related to smoking, that's $400 per taxpayer.
It's unclear why younger people are picking up the habit. But the study noted the prevalence of smoking was higher in schools in neighborhoods with five or more stores that sell tobacco.
And smokeless products are becoming more and more popular, with nearly four percent of high school students using them.
"The smokeless tobacco products are not safer," Dr. Chapman said. "The trends, again, are very concerning."
Students tell ABC7 News they smoke because of they are stressed over rising tuition costs, juggling jobs, and classes. The young smokers we spoke with say they started in high school.
"School, trying to find a college, worrying about money and then jobs," smoker Spencer Douglas said. "I have three jobs right now. So all of that was like a lot of pressure on me."
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has been critical of states like California for not spending enough of their 1998 multi-billion dollar settlement from tobacco companies on smoking prevention.
Life-long smoker Keith Kimber, who also started in high school, agrees, "I just don't think they're using the funds effectively enough."
The state says for every dollar it spends on anti-smoking campaigns, the tobacco industry spends eight to attract more smokers.
"The illegal sale of tobacco to minors is a serious issue and we are committed to working with retailers and inform the public in order to stop these practices," Dr. Chapman said. "The tobacco industry's advertising tactics towards a younger audience is disturbing and shameful. It is startling that the tobacco industry spends nearly $1 million every hour to market their products nationwide."