State-commissioned study finds drop in student smokers
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) The number of New Jersey middle school students who smoke has dropped dramatically since 1999, according to a state-commissioned survey that also found an overall decline in tobacco use among the state's youth.
The survey, conducted by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's School of Public Health, found that 42 percent fewer middle school students smoked cigarettes last year. Meanwhile, smoking by high school students dropped by 11 percent since 1999.
The study released Tuesday also found the popularity of all tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco and hand-rolled flavored cigarettes called bidis waning among youth.
Interviewers spoke with 5,413 middle school students and 4,176 high school students from 115 schools between October and December 2001. The survey was done for the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
About 6 percent of middle school students questioned said they had smoked in the last month, down from about 11 percent in 1999. About 12 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders said they had used any tobacco products in the last 30 days, down from 19 percent in the 1999 survey.
The cigarette smoking rate among high school students fell to about 25 percent, down almost 3 percentage points from 1999. In the 2001 survey, about 34 percent of high school students said they had used any tobacco in the last month, compared with 39 percent in 1999.
However, the survey also found that obtaining cigarettes is not getting any harder for kids, despite a widely publicized law that requires that retailers see proof that the buyer is at least 18 years old.
Two-thirds of all underage smokers said they had not been asked for identification when they purchased cigarettes. Slightly more than half of the underage smokers said they bought cigarettes at a convenience store, while 20 percent bought them at gas stations.
State officials and anti-smoking advocates said the survey results indicate that state and national smoking cessation campaigns are working.
''If we see reductions in seventh and eighth grades, they are delaying down the line into their high school years,'' Larry Downs, director of the anti-tobacco education group New Jersey Breathes, told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Wednesday's editions.
''That's when they become better educated and exposed to education programs. That's when we start lowering consumption dramatically,'' he said.