Fewer Teens Begin Smoking, SAMHSA Study Finds
The number of teenagers who take up smoking has dropped by one-third over the past two years, according to a survey conducted by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports. In 1999, the most recent year for which figures are available, the number of youths aged 12 to 17 who began smoking each day was 2,145, down from a "record high" of more than 3,000 in 1997 (AP/Los Angeles Times, 10/5). The 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse interviewed more than 71,000 teenagers aged 12 and older as a representative sample of the U.S. population of that age. Among its findings:
- About 65.5 million teenagers used tobacco products in 2000. Of that number, about 55.7 million smoked cigarettes, 10.7 million smoked cigars, 7.6 million used smokeless tobacco and 2.1 million smoked pipes.
- The teenage smoking rate declined from 14.9% in 1999 to 13.4% in 2000. Teenage girls had a smoking rate of 14.1%, compared to 12.8% of boys.
- About 33% of teenage smokers said they purchased cigarettes in stores where a clerk handles tobacco products. Additionally, 65.2% reported that friends or relatives purchased cigarettes for them once in the past month.
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said the decline in teenage smoking "reflects years of public and private sector antitobacco efforts and will pay off in terms of millions of lives spared from the ravages of cigarette smoking" (HHS release, 10/4). The decline in teenage smoking is linked to a "hike" in cigarette prices and a "cultural shift" away from tobacco use, experts said. Average cigarette prices rose from $1.85 a pack in 1997 to $2.92 a pack at the end of 1999. The AP/Times reports that the price increases were linked to restrictions on tobacco advertising and marketing and the 1998 national settlement, in which the industry agreed to pay $246 billion to settle state lawsuits over the cost of treating sick smokers. During the same time period, states started antismoking campaigns and restaurants were banning smoking. Dr. Joseph Autry III, acting administrator of SAMHSA, said, "What you're seeing is sort of a cultural swing here and the kids pick up on it."
The survey also found that drug and alcohol use "held steady" in 2000 (AP/Los Angeles Times, 10/5). In 2000, 9.7% of teenagers reported having used an illicit drug, compared to 9.8% in 1999. In the 2000 survey, among teenagers aged 12 to 20, 27.5% reported drinking alcohol in the past month. Of those, 18.7% -- 6.6 million -- reported binge drinking. The study found that those enrolled full-time in college were more likely to drink than those not in school (HHS release, 10/4). The study's findings are available online at http://www.samhsa.gov/statistics/statistics.html