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Friday, 5 October, 2001, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
US teens shun cigarettes
US Government cautiously welcomes the new figures
The number of American teenagers who start smoking has fallen by a striking 33% in two years, the US Government has reported.

More than 3,000 teenagers began smoking each day in 1997, a record high that has been widely cited in the effort to stem tobacco use by young people.

New smokers
57% aged 12-17
36% aged 18-25
7% over 25
But the number of new teenage smokers fell in 1998 and again in 1999, when it reached 2,145 per day, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, an annual benchmark for drug, alcohol and tobacco use.

Teen drug and alcohol use held steady in 2000, the survey said, a finding consistent with other government research.

Cultural shift

The survey found that fewer people of all ages started smoking in 1998 and 1999 but of those who did, most were teenagers.

Experts cited a cultural shift and a rise in the price of cigarettes. But they were hard-pressed to fully explain such a sharp drop in such a short period of time and suggested that a third year of data may be needed to confirm the extent of the trend.

Still the evidence of this and other surveys makes it clear that teenage smoking is on the decline, they said.

The drop took place during tough years and bad press for cigarette makers, who faced a spate of government lawsuits over the cost of treating sick smokers, an attempt to impose federal regulation on the industry and the leaking to the press of documents that showed companies were targeting their marketing campaigns at children and teenagers.

More expensive

In 1998, tobacco companies agreed to pay $246 bn to settle lawsuits from state governments and conceded to unprecedented new restrictions on advertising and marketing.

This contributed to higher prices. The average price of a pack of cigarettes shot up from $1.85 at the beginning of 1997 to $2.92 by the end of 1999.

Several studies have found that teenagers are particularly sensitive to the cost of cigarettes.

Young smokers
Teenagers still make up the majority of new smokers

At the same time, states were stepping up anti-smoking advertising campaigns and from 1999, several began to use their money from the settlement to discourage tobacco use.

In addition, restaurants were going smoke-free, and local governments were approving anti-smoking laws.

The dramatic decline in new teenage smokers came after an equally sharp rise. In 1992, fewer than 2,000 new teenagers started smoking each day, a number that climbed by 50% in just three years.

Drink and drugs

The US Government reported little change in other substance abuse areas. The survey also found that in 2000:

  • On drugs: 9.7% of youths aged 12 to 17 reported using illegal drugs over the preceding 30 days, about the same as in 1999. Overall, 6.3% of all Americans over 12 had used drugs, or about 14 million Americans.
  • On alcohol: 27.5% of people aged 12 to 17 reported drinking in the past month, about the same as in 1999.

Nearly half of all Americans drink, another steady figure. However the number of people of all ages who say they had driven under the influence of alcohol fell from 10.9 to 10%.

The survey included interviews with more then 71,000 people aged over 12. Data on when people began smoking is based on two years of data, meaning information on the number of new smokers in 2000 is not yet available.

See also:

20 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Teenage smoker loses legal battle
20 Jan 01 | Health
Many teen smokers want to quit
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