U.S. Paints Grim Picture of Youth Tobacco Use
THURSDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthScout) -- More than one in eight students in middle school and a third of high school students use tobacco, a new government survey shows.
The survey, which covered three states in 1998 and 13 in 1999, isn't the first to assess the problem of teen smoking. But tobacco experts say it's the most comprehensive look at the issue and should help state tobacco control officials set policies and evaluate their effectiveness.
Wick Warren, a tobacco expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who helped prepare the report, calls the findings "very interesting" and "very troubling."
Particularly discouraging, says Warren, is the discovery that of those who smoke nearly 51 percent of middle school pupils, and 54 percent of high school students, say they want to quit smoking but have trouble doing it. Roughly 60 percent say they tried to quit seriously in the year prior to the survey but failed.
"We have a real need for youth cessation programs," Warren says. States currently offer few such programs, he says, "and even fewer have been through detailed evaluation of their effectiveness."
Warren says he's also concerned by the finding that roughly one in five students in high and middle school said they didn't smoke at the time but would probably take up the habit within a year. "That's a troubling number. We need to have programs that prevent them from doing that," he says.
Other notable findings from the survey, which covered some 15,000 students in 6th through 12th grades in both public and private schools, include:
Nearly 75 percent of smokers in middle school, and nearly 60 percent of high school students who smoke, said they were not asked for proof of age when buying cigarettes.
Although smoking rates among middle school students didn't vary by race, whites and Hispanics were far more likely than blacks to smoke in high school.
Alternative tobacco products like bidis and kreteks, or clove cigarettes, are popular in high school, where 5 percent and 5.8 percent of students, respectively, said they smoked them. But 2.5 percent of middle school students said they smoked bidis and 1.9 percent said they used kreteks, trends that concerned researchers.
And about nine in 10 students reported seeing smoking in the movies or on television.
Criticism over settlement money
Lyndon Haviland, executive vice president of the Legacy Foundation, which helps promote and evaluate anti-tobacco efforts, says having role models who smoke "has a huge impact on teens' perceptions of how normal it is for people to smoke."
The $249 billion tobacco settlement between the states and cigarette makers was intended to pay for states' costs in treating people affected with tobacco-related illnesses, as well as to fund anti-smoking programs for youths.
However, anti-tobacco advocates have criticized the way states are spending their windfalls. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids issued a report earlier this month claiming that of the 15 states party to the suit that had promised to spend "substantial" amounts on tobacco prevention and cessation, only five had met the minimum recommendations from the CDC.
Eleven other states have committed less than half the CDC's recommended minimum amount to such programs, and 14 more are in for less than a quarter of that threshold, the report claims. Three states that joined the settlement have put none of the money toward prevention and cessation programs, according to the report.
"The tobacco settlement has resulted in an increase in the amount of money being spent at the state level on tobacco prevention and cessation, but the numbers are woefully short of what the CDC has concluded represents the absolute minimum necessary to fund a truly effective, sustained comprehensive program," the report claims.
What To Do
Tobacco use is linked to 400,000 preventable deaths a year in the United States, health officials say. Each day, more than 3,000 children under age 18 become regular smokers.
For more on youth smoking, try the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. You can also visit the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention.
To learn more about the report, try the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.