Teen Smoking Rates Remain High
As of 2009, the CDC estimates that 19.5% of teenagers are current smokers, a percentage that has only slightly decreased since 2003, whereas the previous rate of decline from 1999 to 2003 was much more dramatic. As outlined in its Healthy People 2010 initiative, the United States has not met its ten-year goal of reducing teen smoking rates below 16 percent by the year 2010.
During the early 1990s, teenage smoking rates were on a progressive rise. In 1991, an estimated 27.5% of teenagers were current smokers, according to the YRBS. By 1997, this percentage jumped to 36.4%. However, beginning in 1999, statistics showed a drop in adolescent smokers and continued to steadily decline for 4 more years. By 2003, the percentage of adolescent smokers fell by 12.9%. Yet from 2003 to 2009, not much change in the rate of decline occurred. In 2003, 21.9% of teenagers were current smokers, a statistic that fell only by 2.4% within six years. When divided into demographics, age groups, and gender, the weak decline or plateau in smoking rates among teenagers was still apparent. The prevalence of teenage smokers has always remained highest among white males, and the amount of teenage smokers gradually increases with grade levels between ninth and twelfth grades. The prevalence of adolescent cigarette smoking has always remained the lowest among non-Hispanic black females.
Other adolescent smoking habits such as trying cigarette smoking for the first time and frequent smoking also demonstrate the plateau that smoking prevention efforts have had on teenagers. In 1991, the YRBS reported that 70.1% of teenagers had tried a cigarette, even just one or two puffs, in their lifetime. This statistic showed almost no change during the 1990s, resulting in 70.4% of teenagers by 1999. Within just two years, the percentage dropped to 63.9% in 2001, a 6.5% decrease. This statistic continued to decline during 2003 to 2009 but at a slower rate of only 4% during each interval.
In 1991, an estimated 12.7% of teenagers were considered frequent smokers (using 20 or more cigarettes within the past month). This percentage continued to incline during the 1990s, resulting in 16.8% of teenagers by 1999. By 2003, this percentage sharply dropped to 9.7%, a 7.1% decrease. Yet during the next six years, this percentage decreased only slightly, resulting in 7.9% by 2009.
The drastic decline in teenage smoking trends seen during the late 1990s proves the effectiveness of those counter-tobacco strategies geared towards young people that were installed during this time frame. By display of the slowed decrease in teenage smoking rates from 2003 to 2009, the CDC’s new study reaffirms the need to reinstate these effective strategies to combat cigarette use. These strategies include expanding tobacco-free environments, encouraging school programs that promote change in health policy, increasing state excise taxes for tobacco products, expanding counter-advertising mass media campaigns, and minimizing tobacco advertising, promotions, and availability of tobacco products aimed at attracting young people.
Although the majority of teenagers are not smoking, almost 90% of all adult smokers began their smoking habit during adolescence. Preventing teenage smoking creates a tremendous impact on adult smoking trends, and also prevents multiple public health risks including cancers attributed to direct and indirect cigarette use, psychological stressors caused by nicotine dependency, nicotine addiction and comorbid substance abuse, and likelihood of parents passing their cigarette smoking habits to their children. Cigarette smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death for both adolescents and adults.