Sadly, tobacco is still killing our children.
When it comes to relentless campaigns to scare youths away from cigarettes, it appears we’re experiencing two steps forward — one step back.
New data released this week shows that while fewer American teenagers are smoking now than a decade ago, the rate of decline has slowed considerably.
“Despite an 11-year downward trend among middle and high school students, there has been little or no change in tobacco use between 2009 and 2011,” said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, which issued the new report.
From 1997 to 2003, the United States saw robust declines in teen smoking rates, according to the CDC, but since 2002 those gains have slowed as states cut funding for tobacco-cessation programs.
McAfee said teen smoking rates nation-wide haven’t changed significantly since 2009, and the number of high school students who smoke has remained at stubbornly high levels. Among high school-age males, he said nearly 30 percent were using some form of tobacco in 2011. That includes tobacco products that are smoked, chewed or sniffed.
In 2011, almost 18 percent of high school girls used tobacco, according to the new report. Among middle school students, more than 8 percent of boys and 6 percent of girls used some form of tobacco product.
The CDC reports that there were some heartening trends. From 2000 to 2011, overall tobacco use among middle school students dropped from about 15 percent of students to just over 7 percent, and for high school students from 34.4 percent to just over 23 percent.
Still, the bottom line, McAfee said, is that “18- to 25-year-olds have the highest rates of tobacco use of any age group in the U.S. Basically, the adult rate has been declining and the tobacco industry marketing has been focusing aggressively on the 18- to 25-year-old age bracket.”
Deepening concerns, states have cut funding for tobacco-control programs up to 40 percent, at a time when revenue from tobacco has risen more than 30 percent.
“That’s why we are so concerned,” said McAfee. “If we want to get the decline moving again we are going to have to become refocused, as a society, on the goal of having our youth be tobacco-free,” he said.
Anti-smoking campaigns may be grating, uncomfortable — some even ugly — but if the message gets one teen to quit the nasty habit, or not pick up a cigarette in the first place, that’s a program deserving of our attention and support.