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Fewer High School Students Lighting Up

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May 16, 2002 -- After nearly a decade of steady growth, researchers say teen smoking rates are finally beginning to fall. A new CDC report shows cigarette smoking among high school students peaked in 1997and has declined significantly through 2001.

In 1997, more than 36% of high school students identified themselves as current smokers in the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, but that number dropped to about 35% in 1999 and 29% in 2001. The percentage of high school students who say they've ever tried smoking also fell from 1997 to 2001, from 70% to 64%.

Those numbers echo several other recent national surveys that have also hinted that smoking rates among high school students peaked in the late 1990s and are now experiencing a healthy decline.

Officials credit the decrease to a 70% increase in the retail price of cigarettes from 1997 to 2001, increased school-based tobacco prevention efforts, and heightened exposure to state and national mass media anti-smoking campaigns.

Among female students, the report shows the number of current smokers peaked during 1997-1999 at about 34%, and then declined to about 28% by 2001. For male teenagers, the decline began a little earlier. Smoking rates in this group increased steadily from 1991 to 1997, topping out at about 38%, and then dropped to 29% by 2001

In 2001, both white and Hispanic high school students were much more likely to be current smokers than were black students. Students in 12th grade were also more likely to smoke than those in lower grades.

Officials say if current trends continue, the U.S. may meet its national health objective for 2010 of reducing current smoking rates among high school students to less than 16%.

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