High School Smoking Rate Lowest in Decades, Report Says
Increased cigarette taxes and anti-smoking campaigns have contributed to the lowest rate of high school students who smoke since CDC began measuring teen smoking in 1975, according to a report released Thursday by the agency, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports (Yee, AP/Contra Costa Times, 6/18). According to the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the rate of teenagers who smoke decreased to 21.9% in 2003 from 36.4% in 1997 and 27.5% in 1991 (Graham, Chicago Tribune, 6/18). Researchers also found that the percentage of high school students who smoke is for the first time in 20 years lower by about 1% than the percentage of adults who smoke. The number of students who have tried smoking also has declined to 58% in 2003 from 70% in 1991. According to Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends at the American Cancer Society, said that reducing the number of students who have tried smoking is crucial because about 90% of adult smokers say they began smoking before age 18 (Szabo, USA Today, 6/18).
The study also found that the percentage of teenagers considered heavy smokers -- those who smoke at least 20 times per month -- has decreased to 9.7% this year from 16.8% in 1999. CDC officials attribute the lower rates to anti-smoking television and school campaigns that were funded in part by a $206 billion settlement reached by tobacco companies and U.S. states in 1998. In addition, CDC officials said tax increases that increased cigarette prices by 90% since 1997 have contributed to the lower rates. Terry Pechanek, associate director of science for the CDC Office on Smoking and Health, said, "If we can stop youth from becoming addicted smokers, eventually we can stop this epidemic." Philip Morris spokesperson Jennifer Golisch said the company is "very happy" about the study's findings, adding, "As a manufacturer of a product intended for adults, we believe we have a responsibility to help prevent kids from smoking."
Other studies have shown that the decline in teen smoking rates might be decelerating, in part because of increased advertising spending by tobacco companies and decreased funding for smoking prevention programs (AP/Contra Costa Times, 6/18). Tobacco industry officials have increased by about 100% the amount it spends on advertising, from $5.7 billion in 1997 to $11.2 billion in 2001 (USA Today, 6/18). States have reduced funding by 28% over the last two years from $749.7 million in fiscal year 2002 to $541.1 million in fiscal year 2004. In addition, actors in movies that teenagers are likely to see are also smoking more (Chicago Tribune, 6/18). Dr. John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health and a public interest law professor at George Washington University Law School, said the CDC report indicates "the most dramatic progress which has been made in terms of any public health problem, at least in recent memory. The question would be whether we have the political will to continue to do it" (AP/Contra Costa Times, 6/18). American Heart Association CEO M. Cass Wheeler said, "These new figures should serve as a wake-up call to states that are thinking about dismantling -- or have already dismantled -- their tobacco prevention programs (Chicago Tribune, 6/18). The report is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.