Teen smoking drops to record lows

An annual survey of middle and high school students found the average number of smokers in that age range had fallen a whole percentage point since 2011. Some attribute the decline to higher cigarette taxes.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Packs of cigarettes waiting to be purchased at a Chicago area news stand Nov. 30. Some attribute a sharp decline in teen smoking to increases in cigarette taxes.

Cigarette smoking among American teenagers dropped to a record low in 2012, a decline that may have been partly driven by a sharp hike in the federal tobacco tax, researchers said on Wednesday.

An annual survey of about 45,000 students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades found that the overall proportion of those saying they had smoked in the prior 30 days fell by just over a percentage point to 10.6 percent.

"A one percentage point decline may not sound like a lot, but it represents about a 9 percent reduction in a single year in the number of teens currently smoking," Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator in the study, said in a statement.

He said reductions on that scale can translate into the prevention of thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of cases of cancer and other serious disease.

More than 400,000 Americans are estimated to die prematurely each year as a result of cigarette smoking - the No. 1 cause of preventable U.S. deaths - and most smokers begin their habit as adolescents, experts say.

Healthcare advocates hailed Wednesday's findings as evidence that higher cigarette taxes were paying off, combined with federal curbs on youth-oriented tobacco marketing and sales and a sweeping anti-smoking media campaign.

The researchers also cited the increase in federal cigarette taxes, raised by 62 cents a pack in 2009, as a likely contributing factor. The findings were part of an annual survey by University of Michigan researchers released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Smoking rates fell for each of the individual age groups surveyed, most notably among eighth graders - from 6.1 percent in 2011 to 4.9 percent in 2012, the survey found.

Longer-term trends showed teen smoking rates dropping by about three-fourths among eighth graders, two-thirds among 10th graders and by half among 12th graders since a peak in the mid-1990s, researchers said.

One reason cited by experts is that the proportion of students who have ever tried smoking has declined sharply. Whereas nearly half of all eighth graders had tried cigarettes in 1996, just 16 percent had done so this year.

Teen attitudes toward smoking also continued to become more negative. For example, 80 percent of teens said they preferred to date nonsmokers in 2012.

But anti-tobacco advocates said their battle to stamp out teen smoking was far from over, noting that 17 percent of high school seniors still graduate as smokers.

Researchers singled out concerns over new forms of smokeless tobacco, including dissolvable products like Camel-branded "Orbs" and "Strips," and a fine, moist form of snuff called snus (rhymes with "loose"), which users place under their upper lip.

They said a significant portion of older teens have experimented with small cigars and water pipes called hookahs, which are becoming popular among young adults.

"We cannot let our guard down when the tobacco industry still spends $8.5 billion a year - nearly $1 million ever hour - to market its deadly and addictive products and is pushing new products ... that entice youth," said Susan Liss, executive director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.