New data announced in today's Monitoring the Future study shows that while teen smoking rates are continuing their slow decline, an old threat has once again emerged - the use of smokeless tobacco. The study found that among 8th, 10th and 12th graders - all groups surveyed each year by the study - teen smoking rates among 8th and 12th graders continued to trend downward, while daily smoking amongst 10th graders crept upwards (5.9% in 2008 to 6.3% in 2009). Perhaps more concerning is the slight increase in daily smokeless tobacco use amongst 10th graders (now up to 1.9% in 2009 from 1.4 in 2008) and 12th graders (now 2.9 in 2009 up from 2.7 in 2008). Public health experts had predicted this increase in response to the tobacco industry's wide-ranging and aggressively marketed smokeless products now widely available.
The report, now in its 35th year, is the most respected source for data about youth smoking. In light of the findings in today's report, more needs to be done to reduce tobacco consumption writ large among the nation's youth. Also reported in today's announcement:
- The perceived risk of using smokeless tobacco products has decreased in all grades as has disapproval of smokeless products amongst 8th and 10th graders - a troubling trend indicating teens are not aware of the harm smokeless products can cause and that they are a viable alternative to cigarette smoking.
- Teens prefer to date peers who do not smoke - 81.3% in 8th grade, 79.9% in 10th grade and 74.9% in 12th grade. This indicates that social norms surrounding smoking continue to shift.
Legacy, the national public health foundation devoted to keeping young people from smoking and helping all smokers quit, has been committed to finding new ways to reach and engage with the teen audience, with the ultimate goal of reducing youth smoking prevalence. This is especially important as the tobacco industry continues to successfully market its products and addict new smokers.
The public health community, doctors and parents must work together to foster a continued rate of decline. The Master Settlement Agreement reached in 1998 between attorneys general from 46 states, five US territories and the tobacco industry provided our country with a unique opportunity - and with focused funding -- to address youth smoking and help smokers who want to quit.
About eighty percent of all smokers have their first cigarette before age 18(1), and every day 1,500 youth become daily smokers(2). These daily smokers will continue down a path of tobacco-related diseases and will incur higher healthcare costs than nonsmoking Americans. Funding youth smoking-prevention efforts could prevent these ill effects.
On heels of today's study release, the "Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 11 Years Later" report released last week by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and other leading public health groups, found that despite two sources of revenue -- funding provided through the Master Settlement Agreement and funding from taxes placed on tobacco -- states are spending just 2.3 percent of revenue from tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
The Monitoring the Future study has concluded that mass media campaigns can reduce smoking, especially when combined with other tobacco control strategies. However, youth smoking prevention campaigns sponsored by the tobacco industry have been ineffective and may actually have increased youth smoking.