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Stop-Smoking Efforts Falling Short

Young people, minorities are problem groups

THURSDAY, July 25, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Although seven in 10 smokers want to quit, Americans aren't meeting the government's stop-smoking goals. And the reasons include persistent smoking by younger people and not enough help for lower-income and minority people.

Those are the conclusions of a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today. Overall, the report found, smoking has declined somewhat, from 25 percent of adults in 1993 to 23.3 percent in 2000. But that isn't enough to meet the government's goal of getting the incidence below 12 percent by 2010, says Terry Pechacek, the CDC statistician who compiled the numbers.

"We're seeing an overall decline in prevalence in adults 18 and older, but we're not seeing a decline in the younger age groups," Pechacek says. The incidence of smoking is highest among people in their 20s, the numbers show.

One reason is that there was "a dramatic increase in adolescent smoking through 1997," he says, and those young people are clinging to the habit. Another is that the tobacco industry "has shifted its focus heavily to ages 18 through the 20s," he adds.

One subtle way that young people are affected is the image of smoking in the movies, he says. More and more, moviegoers are seeing actors light up on the screen and are using them as role models.

Movies are not reflecting the reality that an increasing number of work places have banned smoking, says John Banzhaf, executive director of the anti-tobacco group Action on Smoking and Health. "Rather, they are giving the impression that smoking is commonly accepted," he says.

In addition to changing the on-screen image of smoking, government could attack the teen problem by banning tobacco vending machines, Banzhaf says. While stores will ask for proof of age, machines don't, he notes, and so they are "the major source of tobacco products for kids."

The smoking report will be published in tomorrow's issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The finding that 70 percent of smokers want to stop comes as no surprise to Banzhaf, nor does the fact that a lot of them don't succeed.

"Many of the people who are still smokers are hard-core addicts and have resigned themselves to the fact that they are not going to quit," he says.

But Pechacek emphasizes the stark differences in success rates among different ethnic, economic and educational segments of the population.

"A clear indication of success is the percentage of ever-smokers who quit permanently," he says. "That rate is 77.4 percent for people with graduate degrees and just 33.6 percent for people with GED diplomas, who are high-school dropouts."

"We're also concerned about ethnic differences," he adds. "The success rate is 37.3 percent for blacks and Hispanics and 51 percent for whites. That is the kind of thing that can be changed."

One reason for the ethnic difference is that minorities have lower incomes and have less access to smoking cessation programs, Pechacek says. "If we can get effective treatments to lower-income inner-city populations, we can make the rates just as successful."

It's important to tell smokers that they should never stop trying to quit, Banzhaf says. "Studies show that the more often they try to quit and fail, the more likely they are to succeed the next time," he says. "The lessons they learn from the failed effort they can use the next time."

But the blunt truth, Pechacek says, is that "rates of smoking in this country are not falling as fast as they could. While the trend is positive, we will not reach our goal unless we accelerate the rates of successful quitting."

What To Do

You can learn about the battle against tobacco from Action on Smoking and Health. For tips on how to quit, click on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Terry Pechacek, Ph.D., statistician, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; John Banzhaf, executive director, Action on Smoking and Health, Washington, D.C.; July 26, 2002, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
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