More Teen-agers Find Tobacco Uncool

Survey shows decline in young smokers

THURSDAY, Dec. 20, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Cigarettes are out of style with more and more American teen-agers, with a sharp drop in the number of young people who smoke, a national survey finds.

And while use of the club drug ecstasy is up among teen-agers, a slowing in the rate of increase points toward a future drop, the same survey finds.

The 2001 Monitoring the Future Survey of 44,000 students in 424 schools shows that smoking among eighth-graders declined from 21 percent in 1996, when it reached its peak, to 12 percent in 2001.

In the same period, smoking declined from 30 percent to 21 percent among 10th-graders and from 37 percent to 30 percent among 12th-graders, says the survey, done by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Those decreases reverse the trend of the early 1990s, when teen smoking rates rose substantially.

One reason for the drop is an increase in cigarette prices, as states impose new taxes and the tobacco industry pays for its multibillion national settlement, says Lloyd D. Johnston, director of the study.

"But that is only part of it," he says. "There are also underlying changes in attitudes. An increasing proportion of teen-agers are saying that smoking is dangerous, that they disapprove of smoking or their friends disapprove of smoking. They talk about not wanting to date people who smoke or not wanting to be around people who smoke."

However, Johnston says the message about the damaging effects of smoking still hasn't gotten through to many young people: 43 percent of eighth-graders still do not think there is a great risk associated with smoking a pack a day. And the great majority of young teen-agers say they have ready access to cigarettes, so the battle is far from won, he says.

Despite the good news, Matthew Meyers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, is cautious. "This new decline only brings us back to the smoking rates of 1991, before the tobacco industry marketing efforts succeeded in increasing the number of kids who smoke," he says. "And this report comes out just as the very programs that have caused the reduction in smoking are under attack in state after state because of current budget shortfalls. If these programs are not continued at current funding levels, I see a rapid turnaround in smoking rates among children."

Meyers says it's important to stop teen smoking because "almost all new smokers start as kids. By the time they are old enough to purchase tobacco legally, they are already addicted."

As for ecstasy, the hallucinogenic stimulant that became popular in the late 1990s, the survey finds that its use doubled among teen-agers in the last three years. In the 2001 survey, ecstasy use was reported by 5 percent of eighth-graders, 8 percent of 10th-graders and 12 percent of 12th-graders.

But underlying -- and undermining -- that increase is the finding that "this year there was a sharp increase in the number of teen-agers who see ecstasy as dangerous," Johnston says. "Usually what you see is that when kids come to see a drug as dangerous, a downturn occurs."

Use has increased because "the drug is reaching new communities it hasn't reached before," Johnston says. "It began in big cities on the East Coast and has been spreading. We already see a deceleration of the trend, and I expect a downturn."

What To Do

Parents can play a big role, Meyers says. "All the evidence shows that parents who talk to their children honestly about tobacco can make a difference. They can't do it alone, but they can make a real difference."

Anyone who needs a reminder about the dangers of teen smoking can consult the American Heart Association. A rundown on ecstasy is offered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

SOURCES: Interviews with Lloyd D. Johnston, director, University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor; Matthew Meyers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington, D.C.; December 2001, The 2001 Monitoring the Future survey
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