Teen smoking declines but remains a concern

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Capital News Service
LANSING—Since the early 1990s, teenage smoking has declined nationally, and one expert attributes the trend to rising prices and changing social norms.
In 1991, the percentage of high school students who ever smoked cigarettes was 70.1 and decreased to 46.3 in 2009, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
The portion of high school students who were frequent cigarette users dropped from 12.7 percent in 1991 to 7.3 percent last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2009 in Michigan, 18.8 percent of high school students smoked at least occasionally, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Kenneth Warner, dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said, “The single most important manipulable variable is price.”
He said he expected teen smoking would drop in 2009 because of a 61-cent federal tax increase per pack of 20 cigarettes.
The next key variable, Warner said, is the anti-smoking “truth campaign” run by the American Legacy Foundation. It was created under an agreement with the tobacco companies to help teens change their thinking about tobacco.
“The truth campaign worked,” Warner said. “The campaign was oriented to target younger teens, 13 to 15, not looking to those 18 to 19, but it did reach them.” The legal smoking age in Michigan  is 18.
One principle was to never lecture but to have teens understand how the tobacco industry was trying to use them, said Warner.
“It’s a matter of changing the norms,” Warner said. “The truth campaign was like advertisements of other products, like soft drinks or sneakers, but instead of a product, it advertised an idea of not smoking.”
Funding for the truth campaign from the tobacco industry ended after five years.
Tobacco companies are still under scrutiny, Warner said.
“Tobacco advertising is watched very closely.  The ‘Joe Camel’ campaign was targeted to kids and young teens — they used to call them ‘young adults,’ but really they were kids.  In the late ‘90s, they were forced to stop ‘Joe Camel’ ads,” which also contributed to the decline in teen smoking, said Warner.
Janet Olsen, program leader with Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development, focuses on health and nutrition and improving social and emotional development for youth.
Her organization offers an anti-smoking curriculum for youth groups and for online use called “Life’s A Kick! Don’t Start Tobacco.”
“When it was developing there were funds for it to be like an anti-tobacco campaign” but it’s now a curriculum, said Olsen.
“After-school programs would have used it with 4-H groups around the state,” said Olsen.
“When it was developing, there was implementation.  When the funding was readily available, staff was piloting it around the state,” she said.
“It’s not that we are not interested in anti-tobacco issues — if other 4-H volunteers are interested in using the curriculum, then absolutely! But it just hasn’t been a dedicated focus.”
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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