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More Teens Are Snuffing Out the Smoking Habit

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Annie Finnegan

Aug. 24, 2000 -- For the first time, there is an overall decline in teen-age smoking rates, but not everyone is getting the message. In a CDC report released Thursday, the rate of "current" smoking -- that, is smoking at least one day a month -- declined nearly 2% between 1997 and 1999 for all teen-agers. But that's the good part.

Terry Pechacek, PhD, associate director for science at the Office of Smoking and Health at the CDC, tells WebMD that while they're encouraged to see an overall decline, their delight is tempered since the declines don't carry across all gender, age, or race groups. Also, the decreases only bring certain groups of students back to where they were before. Pechacek says the biggest declines -- nearly 6% -- are among ninth grade students, after nearly a decade of increases. So even with the decline in 9th grade, the current smoking rate of nearly 35% equals the rate in 1995, and is still 7% over the rate in 1991.

The news for older students -- and females -- is worse. "We're not seeing the same positive pattern in the 12th grade," says Pechacek. "And there's less positive trends in the 10th and 11th grade."

For females, smoking rates have remained virtually the same between 1997 and 1999 while male-smoking rates declined 3%. Hispanic females smoking rates declined nearly 2%, while white females rates declined almost 1%. Black females smoking rates inched up.

The same report shows other trends worth noting. Over 70% of young people have tried smoking at least once, the same as a decade ago. But the report doesn't show comparable rates between 1997 and 1999 for "frequent" smoking -- smoking at least 20 days a month. That rate for all genders and races jumped 4% during the decade. "What this is suggesting to us," says Pechacek "is more students than ever have already begun to use tobacco more frequently and are faced with a nicotine addiction problem. To get them off tobacco will require a more comprehensive and extended effort." There are plenty of organizations out there to help both students and parents do just that.

The American Lung Association (ALA) says they have found that of adolescents who smoke regularly, most of them report wanting to quit but are unable to do so. After three years of development, the ALA's teen smoking cessation program Not On Tobacco (N-O-T) is being promoted nationwide. Designed for high schools and community-based organizations, N-O-T is the first program that has separate boys' and girls' groups so teens can relax and talk about issues that are most important to them. It is a voluntary, 10-session program that uses a total health approach to help addicted teen-age smokers who want to quit, or just cut back.

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