More New York City teens are snubbing cigarettes compared to nationwide use that's become a startling "epidemic," according to the first federal report on the issue in almost two decades.
Twenty percent of American teens -- and one in three adults under age 26 -- are smokers, the U.S. Surgeon General reported Thursday. That's higher than the 7% of city teens identified as smokers by local health officials last fall.
"The addictive power of nicotine makes tobacco use much more than a passing phase for most teens," Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin said in a statement.
"We don't want our children to start something now that they won't be able to change later in life," she added.
Targeting younger people to skip smokes is crucial because 88% of adults began using tobacco by age 18, the report warned.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday the city's raft of anti-smoking measures has had a positive effect on helping smokers kick the habit. In 2000, as many as 18% of city teens said they smoked, according to a health department report from September.
In the most recent survey, 14% of city adults said they use tobacco, a record low over the past two decades.
"We will continue seeking to reduce smoking rates even further," Bloomberg said in a statement.
The city's aggressive crackdown included a 2002 prohibition on lighting up at restaurants, bars and most workplaces, and a ban in city parks and plazas last spring.
That's outraged smokers' rights groups, such as Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, which has called for boycotting businesses that don't allow smoking.
Meanwhile, New York state now has the highest taxes on cigarettes in the nation, with a pack costing around $11 in the city.
The surgeon general blamed tobacco companies spending $10 billion in annual marketing, including catchy displays in convenience stores. But the parent company of Philip Morris USA said the "vast majority" of its ads are related to price promotions.
"We share the common goal of keeping tobacco products out of the hands of kids," the company said Thursday.
Michael Seilback, vice president of policy and communications for the American Lung Association in New York, said the state needs to do its part -- lashing out at a proposal to slash funding to tobacco-control programs in next fiscal year's budget by $5 million.
"When you start to cut funding, you see things going backwards," said Seilback, adding he's seen a recent slowdown in nicotine patch giveaways.
A spokesman for the governor's office didn't return a request for comment.