40% in middle school admit tobacco use
Two out of every five Colorado middle schoolers smoke or use a tobacco product, said Jane Norton, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health.
That's 39.5 percent, compared to the national average of 33.5 percent.
In the first statewide survey, which involved 3,546 students in 41 middle schools and 49 high schools, researchers found that 28 percent of the sixth- , seventh- and eighth-graders tried cigarettes before they turned 11.
"The younger individuals are when they first try smoking, the higher their chances are of ultimately becoming regular smokers," said Norton at the state Capitol Monday to launch 2001 Public Health Week.
One-fourth of the youngsters who continue the habit will die of a tobacco-related illness, she said.
Vickie Connley, 16, a student at Cripple Creek High School, started smoking at 11 because of peer pressure from her 14-year-old cousin who smoked, she said.
Connley can't quit.
"Smoking is real bad and I want to help the next generation not smoke," she said. "I'll do whatever I have to do to help others."
Connley works with other youngsters through the State Tobacco Education & Prevention Partnership, STEPP, funded by the federal tobacco settlement.
The picture of middle-school smokers drawn by the statewide study shows:
Most get cigarettes from older siblings, parents or peers. Only 8 percent buy them at gas stations, stores or vending machines.
Each month, 1,600 more Colorado teens start using tobacco.
There are 90,000 teen smokers, including 20,000 who smoke daily.
About 10 percent of the state's middle-school students have used smokeless tobacco. The national rate is 7 percent.
Hispanic students have the highest rates of tobacco use -- 12.2 percent in middle school and 38.7 percent in high school. The figures are 7.9 percent and 22 percent for African-Americans and 7.6 percent and 33 percent for non-Hispanic whites.
Karen DeLeeuw, head of STEPP and a former smoker, said aggressive marketing of tobacco products was a factor. She said 62 percent of the youngsters who smoke choose Marlboro, the most heavily advertised brand.