Jan. 27 2000
Washington, DC - This survey shows that youth tobacco use remains a pediatric epidemic in the United States, with more than a third of high school students and almost 13 percent of middle school students reporting having used some form of tobacco in the past month. While current smoking rates indicate some decline in cigarette use since the CDC’s 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, tobacco use among children remains at near record high levels. This survey again demonstrates the clear need for comprehensive programs to reduce tobacco use among young people. It is critical that state legislatures allocate a significant portion of the funds they receive from the settlement with the tobacco companies to comprehensive programs to discourage tobacco use. We have growing evidence in the few states that have implemented them that such programs work, including smoking declines of 15 percent among Massachusetts high school students over four years and declines of 19 percent among middle school students and 8 percent among high school students in the first year of Florida’s program (1998). We join Dr. Cheryl Healton, CEO, the American Legacy Foundation, in urging governors to include substantial funds for tobacco prevention in their state budgets. These programs save lives and taxpayer money. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must be given the authority to regulate tobacco products as it does other drugs, including restricting the marketing and selling of these products to children. The most disturbing finding in this survey is that, while African-American students have traditionally smoked at rates much lower than their white and Hispanic counterparts, African-American middle school students now smoke at roughly the same rate. This finding suggests that tobacco company marketing may be achieving the same success in reaching African-American children as they have others. It is an alarming trend that warrants close attention. We applaud the American Legacy Foundation and the CDC Foundation for conducting this first-ever in-depth survey of American youth on tobacco use. These data will be extremely useful in monitoring tobacco use – the number one cause of preventable death in our country – and in developing efforts to combat that use. We encourage every state, as part of its comprehensive tobacco prevention program, to implement the Youth Tobacco Survey to monitor progress in reducing youth tobacco use at the state level.