Youth Smoking Rates Hit Standstill
States, Industry Blamed for Slowdown
March 31, 2005 -- Nearly 30% of American high school students are still using tobacco, worrying health officials and advocates that previous gains against youth smoking have slowed.
CDC figures released Thursday show that 28% of high school students were current smokers in 2004, a number essentially unchanged since 2002. Cigarette smoking rates for middle school students dropped slightly from 9.8% to 8.1% during the same period, though the change was not significant.
Overall, 28.2% of high school students and 11.7% of middle school students now use cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, or other products, the agency reported. Approximately 4.5 million American teens currently smoke, according to 2003 federal surveys.
Antismoking Efforts Slowing
Officials warn that Thursday's figures represent a significant slowdown in efforts to curb smoking by young people that previously helped produce deep cuts in minors' tobacco use. Cigarette smoking peaked at 36% of high school students in 1997. It dropped to 22.5% by 2002, after the 1998 Master Settlement agreement between states and cigarette makers greatly curbed industry advertising and forced companies to pay for campaigns to end smoking by young people.
"No changes were observed in the use of tobacco or in access to tobacco products," the CDC stated in its report. More than two-thirds of middle school youth surveyed said they were able to buy tobacco products without showing proof of age. Also, 87% of high school students reported seeing actors smoking on screen in 2004, the CDC said.
Officials blame several other factors, including lower state spending on tobacco prevention and a slowdown in price increases that previously made it more difficult for youth to buy cigarettes. Increasing excise taxes caused an 80% rise in the cost of the average cigarette pack between 1997 and 2002, but that increase slowed to just 4% by 2004, they said.
William V. Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who says that youth smoking rates have "clearly stalled," blames the tobacco industry and "short-sighted state legislatures" for the slowdown.
Jennifer Golisch, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company, says that her company actively works to curtail minors' access to cigarettes and that the company greatly cut its newspaper and magazine advertising in recent years.
"In 2004, we didn't advertise in magazines at all," she says.
But Corr notes that Philip Morris and other companies have made up for advertising cuts by greatly increased spending on price promotions and subsidies that help retailers lower the cost of cigarettes at retail counters. Nearly $8 billion of the industry's $12.5 billion in total tobacco promotions in 2002 went to such subsidies, he says.
"They have used their marketing and promotion allowances to encourage retailers to cut pricing, and that makes cigarettes more attractive to youth," Corr says.