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Trends in Cigarette Smoking Among High School Students—United States, 1991–2001

May 17, 2002 / Vol. 51 / No. 19

Press Release

ATLANTA—A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that although more than one in four U.S. high school students still smoke cigarettes, rates among this group have been declining since 1997. These findings are from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), part of CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which is a school–based survey that collects data from students in grades 9–12 nationwide.

According to the report, 28.5% of high school students in the U.S. currently smoke, down from 36.4% in 1997. Current smoking is defined as having smoked on one or more of the 30 days preceding the survey. Lifetime use also has declined. In 1999, CDC reported that 70.4% of high school students had tried cigarette smoking during their lives. By 2001, that number had fallen to 63.9%. The report concludes that if this pattern continues, the United States could achieve the 2010 national health objective of reducing current smoking rates among high school students to 16% or less.

“It is encouraging to see more and more teens making the right choice about smoking.” Said Dr. David Fleming, acting director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We hope this trend continues because it would mean fewer people suffering and dying from smoking-related illnesses.”

The data from this report are consistent with other national surveys that suggest the dramatic increase in cigarette smoking rates among high school students during the 1990s is now reversing. Factors that might have contributed to the decline in cigarette use include a 70% increase of the retail price of cigarettes between December 1997 and May 2001, increases in school–based efforts to prevent tobacco use, and increases in youth exposure to both state and national mass media smoking prevention campaigns.

“While we have made some undeniable progress in reducing the teen smoking rates, now is not the time to rest upon our laurels” warned Rosemarie Henson, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “Since cigarette prices may not continue to increase, a greater emphasis will need to be put on the school–based efforts and media campaigns that have proven effective as part of comprehensive tobacco control programs so that we can help the next generation of children to remain smoke-free.”

Dr. Lloyd Kolbe, director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, indicated that “from 1994 to 2000 the percentage of school districts nationwide that required schools to teach tobacco use prevention increased from 83 to 92% and the percentage of middle and senior high schools with an ideal Tobacco-Free school policy increased from 37 to 46%.”

Other findings from the study include

  • Current frequent smoking, defined as smoking on at least 20 of the 30 days preceding the survey, decreased from 16.8% in 1999 to 13.8% in 2001.
  • In 2001, as in previous years, white and Hispanic students were significantly more likely than black students to report current smoking.

The YRBS, which began in 1990 and has been conducted biennially since 1991, includes questions on a wide variety of health-related risk behaviors including smoking. See YRBSS findings.

The YRBS is one of three major surveys sponsored by HHS that provide data on tobacco and other substance use among youth. The other two are the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) and the Monitoring the Future Survey (MTFS).

The NHSDA, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is a primary source of statistical information on illicit drug use in the U.S. population 12 years of age and older. Conducted periodically from 1971 and annually since 1990, the NHSDA collects data in household interviews. See NHSDA findings for 2000.

The MTFS, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has tracked tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use and attitudes toward drugs among 12th grade students since 1975. In 1991, 8th and 10th grade students were added to the study. See MTFS findings.

While it is somewhat difficult to make comparisons because of differences in survey methods and time periods, the findings of all three HHS surveys are consistent with respect to smoking trends, indicating that teen smoking rates appear to have peaked during the late 1990s and are now declining.

The results of the YRBS survey will appear in the May 17 issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.More information on CDC’s tobacco control activities can be found at CDC’s Smoking & Tobacco Use Web site.

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