Youth Tobacco Use: Downward Trend Is Slowing

CDC Report Shows Current Cigarette Smoking by High School Students Is About 17%

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 26, 2010
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Aug. 26, 2010 -- Current tobacco use by middle and high school students has declined over the past decade, but this trend has slowed in recent years and more work is needed to combat the problem, the CDC says.

The CDC, reporting in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, says comprehensive anti-tobacco programs need more funding and that the federal government should enforce legislation that requires larger, graphic health warnings on cigarette packages and in advertisements.

Further, broader tobacco-free policies, tobacco tax increases, and advertisement restrictions would help further reduce both youth and adult tobacco use, the report says.

The analysis was based on data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, a school-based study that collects information on tobacco use and related behaviors. In this study, 22,679 young people participated; they were asked to complete self-administered questionnaires each year from 2000 to 2009.

Besides cigarettes, youths were asked about use in the past month of cigars, smokeless tobacco, pipes, small brown cigarettes wrapped in leaves, called bidis, and clove cigarettes, or kreteks.

Current use was defined as use on at least one occasion in the past 30 days. Experimentation was defined as ever having smoked a cigarette, even a puff or two, but fewer than 100 cigarettes.

Pattern of Tobacco Use Decline

Among other things, the report says that, from 2000 to 2009:

  • Prevalence of current tobacco use reported by high school kids declined from 34.5% to 23.9%.
  • Prevalence of current cigarette use dropped from 28% to 17.2%.
  • Experimentation with tobacco dropped from 39.4% to 30.1%.
  • Prevalence of current tobacco use among middle school students declined from 15.1% to 8.2%.
  • Prevalence of current cigarette use among middle school kids dropped from 11% to 5.2%.
  • Among middle school kids, experimentation with cigarettes declined from 29.8% to 15%.

The report notes that in 2009, some 8.2% of middle school students and 23.9% of those in high school reported they used tobacco in some form.

Decreases from 2006 to 2009 were found only among middle school students for current cigarette use in girls, dropping from 6.4% to 4.7%, and in non-Hispanic whites, from 6.5% to 4.3% in the same years.

Among high school kids, declines were only in girls for current tobacco use, dropping from 21.3% to 18.2%, and in current cigarette use, declining from 18.4% to 14.8%, and in non-Hispanic whites for use of bidis, from 2.6% to 1.7%.

"The general lack of significant change during the shorter period indicates that the current rate of decline in tobacco use is relatively slow," the researchers write.

Cigarette use and overall tobacco use among high school students both remain above target levels, the CDC says.

"The findings from this report suggest further efforts are needed to counter tobacco industry influences on youths," the CDC report says. "New Food and Drug Administration regulations which prohibit the distribution of free samples of smokeless tobacco to youths and prohibit tobacco brand name sponsorship of any athletic, musical or other social or cultural events are designed to help prevent tobacco use among youths."