TEENAGE SMOKING: Fewer Students are Lighting Up
Smoking among teenagers dropped slightly between 1997 and 1999, according to the latest CDC survey reflecting health-risk behavior among teens, the Wall Street Journal reports. The study found that 34.8% of high-school students smoked at least one cigarette during the month prior to the CDC survey, a decline from 36.4% in a 1997 survey. According to the report, smoking declined among students in three of the four high school grade levels and in five out of the six racial or ethnic groups assessed (Brooks, 8/25). A "particularly encouraging" finding was that smoking decreased among high school freshman by 17%. Terry Pechacek, associate director of the Office of Smoking and Health at the CDC, said, "That's where we're having the impact. It's when they're in that transition period, from having tried a cigarette behind the football stands to daily smoking." Government analysts attributed the decline to smoking-prevention programs targeted specifically at teens and the rising costs of cigarettes (Mcclam, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/25). Cigarette manufacturers raised prices last year by about 45 cents a pack to help pay off the $206 billion tobacco settlement. Dr. Lorena Siqueira, director of the Stop Nicotine Addiction program at Mount Sinai Medical Center's Adolescent Health Center, said, "I've had kids come to me considering quitting because of the increased costs" (Williams, New York Daily News, 8/25).
No Cause for Celebration Yet
Despite some encouraging statistics, researchers warned that "there isn't enough evidence yet to conclude that the popularity of smoking is slipping permanently." Pechacek said, "We're encouraged by the overall trend, but that is tempered by the fact that positive trends are not seen across all groups" (Wall Street Journal, 8/25). For example, the incidence of high school seniors who smoked in the month prior to the study actually increased from 39.6% in 1997 to 42.8% in 1999. Moreover, the number of "frequent smokers," or those who have smoked at least 20 of the last 30 days, rose to 16.8%, about one-third higher than 1991 figures. And Surgeon General David Satcher said that only 5% of U.S. schools have adopted the CDC's guidelines for discouraging smoking (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/25). Pechacek warned that prevention programs must continue to expand in order to meet the government's goal to cut teen smoking in half by 2010. He added, "We basically in the 1990s lost all of the success we had seen from the late 1970s to the early 1990s" (Wall Street Journal, 8/25). Although the CDC surveyed 15,000 students in 50 states and the District of Columbia, some researchers cautioned that the CDC's findings "could be misleading" because it did not reach high school dropouts, "who are more likely to smoke" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/25).