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Cigarette smoking among teens has declined dramatically

Cigarette smoking is notoriously known as the leading preventable cause of premature death in the United States, both for teens and adults. The nasty habit contributes to about 500,000 deaths annually, representing 20% of all deaths each year.

This alarming statistic underscores the critical importance of addressing cigarette smoking, particularly among teens.

The majority of adult smokers begin this habit before turning 18, making the prevention of adolescent smoking a pivotal factor in the overall reduction of cigarette smoking rates in adults.

How the study was conducted

A comprehensive study conducted by researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine, along with their collaborators, offers an insightful look into cigarette smoking trends among U.S. teens.

Spanning three decades (1991 to 2021), this research focused on high school students from grades nine to twelve, analyzing various patterns of cigarette usage and its variations across different genders and ethnicities.

Measuring the cigarette smoking habits of teens

The study classified teen cigarette smoking into four categories:

  1. Ever Tried: Defined as having taken one or two puffs of a cigarette.
  2. Occasional Smoking: Smoking cigarettes sporadically.
  3. Frequent Smoking: Regular but not daily cigarette use.
  4. Daily Smoking: Smoking cigarettes every day.

Huge decline in teen cigarette smoking

The results, which are set to be published in the Ochsner Journal, are nothing short of remarkable:

  • Ever Use of Cigarettes: Saw a drastic decrease from 70.1% in 1991 to 17.8% in 2021.
  • Occasional Use: Dropped significantly from 27.5% to 3.8% during the same period.
  • Frequent Use: Plummeted from 12.7% to a mere 0.7%.
  • Daily Use: Fell from 9.8% to 0.6%.

Notably, despite these declines, 12th graders consistently reported higher rates of occasional cigarette smoking compared to younger grades, indicating a tendency for older adolescents to experiment with cigarettes.

Professor Panagiota “Yiota” Kitsantas, Ph.D. is the senior author of this study and chair of the Department of Population Health and Social Medicine at FAU Schmidt College of Medicine.

“The substantial decrease in cigarette use among U.S. teens spanning three decades is an encouraging public health achievement,” said Kitsantas.

“This decrease underscores the importance of continued vigilance, research, and intervention to further reduce tobacco use and its associated harms.”

The study also shed light on long-standing inequalities in cigarette use among adolescents based on gender and race. By 2021, gender disparities in smoking rates had significantly narrowed.

Furthermore, the decline in cigarette consumption was more pronounced among Black and Asian adolescents, while rates for white and Hispanic/Latino youths were lower than in 1997 but still relatively higher.

Public health implications

Dr. Charles H. Hennekens, M.D., Dr.PH is co-author and senior academic advisor at FAU Schmidt College of Medicine. He emphasized the complex public health challenges that persist despite these encouraging trends.

Hennekens also highlighted the urgent need for targeted interventions, especially considering the differing health risks associated with teen cigarette smoking.

“Quitting smoking significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, with benefits starting within months and approaching a non-smoker’s risk within a few years, even for older adults,” said Dr. Hennekens.

“However, for lung and other cancers, risk reduction takes much longer, and even after a decade, remains between the risks of a current smoker and a lifelong nonsmoker. Thus, it’s never too late to quit for heart health, but when it comes to cancer, the earlier, the better.”

In summary, this study not only highlights a remarkable public health success story in reducing teen cigarette smoking, but also signals the ongoing need for strategic public health initiatives.

By understanding and addressing the specific challenges that remain, the goal of a smoke-free generation seems increasingly within reach.

The full study was published in the Ochsner Journal.


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