Overall tobacco use among high school students remains high, with one in five currently using tobacco and nearly half reporting they have ever used a tobacco product, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports in its latest data on teen smoking. Ever using a tobacco product is a concern because even one-time use of tobacco is associated with increased long-term risks for becoming a regular user, the CDC says. As detailed in the data obtained from its comprehensive 2013 National Youth Tobacco Survey, the CDC found that 22.9 percent of all high school students and 6.5 percent of all middle school students in the United States had used a tobacco product within the last 30 days. Approximately 90 percent of this tobacco use can be traced directly to combustible tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, hookahs and pipes. As has been well-publicized, the smoking of cigarettes among teenagers has been on the decline for almost two decades. In fact, teen cigarette smoking has already dropped below the 16 percent level previously identified by government health agencies as their desired target for the year 2020. This goal was achieved a full seven years earlier than predicted, when another CDC study found that just 15.7 percent of teens had used this infamous tobacco product within the previous 30 days. In 1997, smoking among adolescents reached an alarming level, as an astonishing 36.4 percent of teens at that time admitted to using cigarettes within the last month. Price increases driven by higher taxes, public smoking bans and a relentless campaign to get the word out about the dangers of smoking have helped drive this appalling figure steadily downward, and youth cigarette consumption has now reached historically low levels. According to this most recent CDC report, only 14 percent of white youth, 13.4 percent of Hispanic youth and 9 percent of African American adolescents were actively smoking cigarettes as we entered the year 2014, so the good news is continuing to get better. But necessity is the mother of invention, and the tobacco companies have done a disturbingly masterful job of reinventing their products—and their marketing campaigns—in order to remain relevant. Flavored cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookahs for group smoking and e-cigarettes for a “clean” nicotine hit are all being used by young people in relatively significant amounts, and this has helped offset the progress that has been made in turning adolescents against cigarettes. These other forms of tobacco consumption may or may not be as dangerous as traditional cigarette smoking (the scientific evidence on this question is still being collected), but none of them are safe and could lead young people to adopt long-term tobacco and nicotine habits that will be difficult to break without treatment and will threaten their health and safety as they grow older. Promising trends aside, however, it is still cigarette smoking that poses the greatest hazard. Most adolescents who start smoking these cancer agents believe that they will be able to quit once they get older, but this is nowhere near as easy as many kids assume, and the statistics show that most will remain addicted as they enter adulthood. The latest surgeon general’s report on tobacco use estimates that 5.6 million young people age 17 and under will die prematurely as a result of smoking-related diseases, almost all of whom will be victimized by cigarettes. While cigarette smoking has declined in the youth demographic, there are still 5 million to 7 million kids using cigarettes on a regular basis.
Teen Smoking Brings a Stormy Forecast
The good news is that the campaign to reduce cigarette smoking in youth has met with great success. But the bad news is that tobacco use overall among young people is still running at a disappointingly high level. And even though cigarette smoking is much less popular among adolescents than it used to be, it must be noted that in the late ’80s and early ’90s, smoking rates dropped, too, before rebounding strongly a few years later. Some have accused the CDC of being overly gloomy, emphasizing the bad news while at times seeming to downplay the progress that has been made by the anti-cigarette campaign. But the hazards are so significant that as long as any kids are using tobacco products of any kind, parents, teachers, medical professionals and all of us as members of this society should remain deeply worried.