COLUMBIA — A June 9 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the United States has failed to reach its "Healthy People 2010" goal of reducing smoking among high school students to 16 percent or less. According to the CDC's 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of more than 10,000 high school students, one in five still smoke.
There are many possible explanations for the continued prevalence of teen smokers. According to a recent New York Times' article, the popularization of hookah bars and smokeless nicotine products — often advertised as less harmful than cigarettes — has made tobacco chic again. Anti-smoking advocates quoted in the article said their "countermessage has been lost." Citing false assumptions that the "tobacco war" has been won and shifts in public health emphasis, these advocates said not enough funds or attention are being paid to anti-smoking campaigns.
According to the Times article, without greater commitment to anti-smoking campaigns, the total smoking rate in the United States will stabilize at 13.5 percent by 2050.
The CDC's report — which includes information gathered since 1991 — indicates that cigarette use among high school students began to decline in the late 1990s; from 1995 to 2003, the rate fell nearly 13 percent. In 2003, however, the rate of decline slowed drastically, and from 2003 to 2009, the number of high school students smoking fell only 2.4 percent. In 2009, 19.5 percent of high school students said they smoked.
"The slow progress since 2003 tells us that much more needs to be done to reduce youth smoking," CDC Director Thomas Frieden said in the report.
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States; according to the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, one-third of high school smokers are expected to die prematurely of tobacco-related disease.
What should be done to reduce smoking rates among high school students?