Survey Says Teen Smoking Is in Decline
Smoking among teenagers has dropped significantly in the last two years, according to a new survey.
Preliminary results released yesterday by the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-smoking organization, found that there was an almost 18 percent decline since 2000 in smoking rates among high school students, and a 5.4 percent decline among students in middle school.
In addition, the study -- which was conducted in collaboration with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- showed that students exposed to the foundation's "truth campaign" television ads were much less likely to smoke than those who did not see the anti-smoking television ads.
"The study shows that the truth campaign is the anti-smoking vaccine for kids we've been waiting for," said foundation president Cheryl Healton.
The foundation is funded through a 1998 agreement between the tobacco companies and 46 states, and its television campaign began in early 2000. It has been under political and sometimes legal pressure from tobacco companies to tone down its attacks, which the companies say unfairly demean their employees and are misleading. Healton reiterated yesterday that the ads would continue, and were essential to the group's message.
"The pressure continues on the foundation and the board," she said. "We see it as a red badge of courage. If the companies aren't upset, then we're not doing our job."
The new results are from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, which involved students in 69 schools in 27 states -- a total of 9,661 in high school and 6,853 in middle school. A student was considered a smoker if he or she had smoked a cigarette within 30 days.
The survey found that smoking had declined from 29 percent of high school students to 23.8 percent, and from 11.2 percent to 10.6 percent of middle school students. But the largest percent declines were in areas where the "truth campaign" ads had been most widely run, and the smallest declines were where the ads were least visible. Healton said there was a "dose response" to the ad; that the larger the dose, the greater the effect.
Public health advocates, as well as industry spokesmen, welcomed the reported declines. The CDC said the results "provide evidence that mass media campaigns, such as the truth campaign, have been important factors in reducing the national prevalence of smoking among youth." Michael Pfeil, a vice president of the Philip Morris Cos., said his company was pleased at the result, and that the Philip Morris ad campaign to discourage teens from smoking may have played a role as well.
The foundation recently criticized Philip Morris for its expensive television campaign, saying that a study it commissioned concluded the company ads actually encouraged teens to try cigarettes. Because teens are naturally rebellious, the foundation study concluded, the company's straightforward anti-smoking messages from athletes and others had the effect of making some teens want to start. The company recently stopped running the ads, but said it believed they were effective.
The "truth campaign" ads have focused on the disease and death that cigarette smoking causes, and have accused the tobacco companies of trying to keep that information from young people.