Fewer U.S. Teens and Young Adults Smoke

Despite Downward Trends, 1 in 12 Teens and 1 in 3 Young Adults Report Cigarette Use

By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 17, 2012 -- Fewer American teens and young adults are smoking cigarettes, a new government report shows.

The report, done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), revealed that the percentage of adolescents aged 12 to 17 who said they smoked cigarettes during the survey month has steadily declined from a high of almost 12% in 2004 to a low of 8.3% in 2010.

A reduction in cigarette use was also seen in young adults aged 18 to 25 during the same time period. The number of young people who reported smoking during the survey month fell from nearly 40% in 2004 to about 34% in 2010.

Researchers suspect that antismoking campaigns, tax increases, higher cigarette prices, and laws prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to minors have all contributed to these downward trends.

While these findings may be encouraging, many kids today are still picking up this dangerous habit.

"Although some progress has been made in curbing youth smoking, the fact remains that 1 in 12 adolescents currently smoke and 1 in 3 young adults smoke -- which means far too many young adults are still endangering their lives," SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde says in a news release.

"Smoking is the nation's leading cause of preventable death and we must take every opportunity to prevent kids and young adults of today from becoming the hooked, ailing adult smokers of tomorrow," Hyde says.

Curbing Youth Smoking

The report looked at data collected every year between 2004 and 2010 as part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Over this seven-year period, researchers interviewed more than 157,500 people aged 12 to 17 and almost 159,000 men and women aged 18 to 25.

They asked each volunteer if they had smoked cigarettes during the last 30 days. For those who said yes, they also found out how many days they smoked that month and the number of cigarettes smoked each day.

  • In kids 12 to 17, the number who smoked every day fell from 3.3% in 2004 to 1.9% in 2010.
  • Daily tobacco use was also down among 18- to 25-year-olds, from 20.4% in 2004 to 15.8% in 2010.

Not only were there changes in the percentage of young adults who said they smoked every day, there were also changes in the number of cigarettes smoked by daily cigarette users.

  • In the youngest smokers aged 12 to 17, the largest group was those who smoked five or fewer cigarettes a day. Their ranks grew from about 37% in 2004 to nearly 43% in 2010.
  • As teenage smokers got older, they often smoked more. The largest group of daily smokers among 18- to 25-year-olds were those who smoked between six and 15 cigarettes a day. Their numbers increased slightly from nearly 41% in 2004 to almost 44% in 2010.
  • The percentage of young-adult daily smokers who reported smoking 26 or more cigarettes daily declined from 6% in 2004 to 3.4% in 2010.

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SOURCES: National Survey on Drug Use and Health: "The NSDUH Report: Trends in Cigarette Use Among Adolescents and Young Adults. "News release, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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