Monday, July 12, 2010

Declines in Youth Smoking Trends are Coming to a Halt

As Rob Gould, President and CEO of Partnership for Prevention, has stated, “the top priority for prevention spending should be tobacco control.” And what is the best way to focus our tobacco control efforts? The answer is youth. By focusing on youth we can prevent this addictive behavior before it starts.

The need to address youth smoking is pressing. CDC published a report in last week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) titled, “Cigarette Use Among High School Students–United States, 1991-2009,” which brings to light to the slowing progress in youth smoking prevention.

The CDC studied cigarette smoking trends among high school students in the United States by analyzing data from the 1991-2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS), which are conducted every two years among high school students in grades ninth through twelve. When looking at three different variables: ever smoked cigarettes (whether a student had ever smoked, even just one puff), current cigarette use (whether a student had smoked at least one day in the past thirty days), and current frequent cigarette use (whether a student had smoked at least twenty days or more during the past thirty days), researchers found that high school smoking rates dropped rapidly in the late 1990s. However, the rate of decline substantially slowed down after 2003 and has continued to only decline very gradually since then. When analyzing data from different racial and gender groups for current cigarette use, rates also declined rapidly in the late 1990s and then either continued to decline gradually or leveled off after 2003 for all subgroups except for black female students, for whom current cigarette use continued to decline after 1999 without slowing.

These slowing rates have led to our failure to meet the Healthy People 2010 national health objective to reduce the prevalence of current cigarette use among high school students to 16% or less. It is noteworthy that the 2009 YRBS survey was administered before the federal tax increase for cigarettes and before the Family Smoking Prevention Act went into effect, both of which aim to reduce youth smoking. However, much work needs to be done if we are to address these slowing declines in current cigarette smoking trends among high school students in the United States.

Partnership for Prevention agrees with the CDC’s recommendations for “reductions in advertising, promotions, and commercial availability of tobacco products… combined with expanded counter-advertising mass media campaigns and… other well-documented and effective strategies (e.g., higher prices for tobacco products through increases in excise taxes, tobacco free environments, programs that promote changes in social norms, and comprehensive communitywide and school-based tobacco-use prevention policies).”

Additionally, in a recent column in Kaiser Health News, “The Prevention Dilemma,” Rob Gould states that tobacco control should be the top priority for health reform funding and youth prevention placed at the top of the list. He argues for a “nationwide public education campaign modeled on the highly successful Truth® campaign that dissuades thousands of young people from initiating tobacco use and encourages smoking cessation.”

The MMWR brings disappointing news in terms of tobacco control, yet hopefully can be the driving force to focus our public health and policies and resources on preventing youth smoking and make this a healthier nation.

Katie Burggraf
Partnership for Prevention Intern


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