Smoking prevalence among teens may rise, study finds

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The very substantial decrease in teen smoking that began in the mid-1990s has come to a halt among younger teens in the United States, and some evidence of a possible increase in their smoking was observed this year, announced researchers that were part of the "Monitoring the Future" study on Tuesday.

While the increase is not yet large enough to reach statistical significance, an increasing proportion of both eighth and 10th grade students this year said they smoked in the past 30 days or smoked daily in that period.

The "Monitoring the Future" study, which has been tracking teen smoking in the United States for the past 36 years, reported that past 30-day smoking among eighth graders increased from 6.5% in 2009 to 7.1% in 2010; among 10th graders it rose from 13.1% to 13.6%.

All three grades now have rates of smoking that are far below their peak rates in 1996 or 1997. For example, 30-day prevalence is down by two-thirds (66%) among eighth graders, by more than half (55%) among 10th graders and by nearly half (48%) among 12th graders.

"These are extremely important changes that will carry very substantial consequences for the health and longevity of this generation of young Americans," stated Lloyd Johnston, principal investigator of the study. "But there are still significant proportions of teens putting themselves at risk for a host of serious diseases and a premature death because they are taking up cigarette smoking."

Smoking in the prior 30 days was reported by 7%, 14% and 19% of eighth, 10th and 12th graders, respectively. Rates of daily smoking during the past 30 days were 3%, 7% and 11% in the three grades, respectively. Based on the experience of previous 12th-grade classes, quite a number of the lighter smokers will become daily smokers after they leave high school.

Smoking behavior among younger teens is particularly important because it is predictive of their smoking behavior as they become older teens and young adults. "Smoking is a habit that tends to stay with people for a long time, leading to ongoing differences between different graduating classes of students that persist into adulthood," Johnston said. "Scientists call it a cohort effect, and it occurs largely because cigarette smoking is so addictive."

The estimates originated from the study's national surveys of some 46,000 students in nearly 400 secondary schools each year. The study is directed by a team of research professors at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, and since its inception has been funded through a series of research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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