Editorial - More work to be done about teen tobacco useThere’s good news/bad news about teens and tobacco. A new report shows that tobacco use among teens continues to decline but here’s the down side: It’s only decreasing by a percentage point or two – not nearly as much as the sharp declines recorded over the past decade. More bad news: The use of menthol cigarettes has more than doubled among teen smokers since 2000.
There’s good news/bad news about teens and tobacco. A new report shows that tobacco use among teens continues to decline but here’s the down side: It’s only decreasing by a percentage point or two – not nearly as much as the sharp declines recorded over the past decade.
More bad news: The use of menthol cigarettes has more than doubled among teen smokers since 2000.
The findings are included in the report, Teens and Tobacco in Minnesota 2011; Results from the Minnesota Youth Tobacco and Asthma Survey. Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota commissioner of health, summed up the report this way: "We've made great progress in reducing tobacco use since 2000, but the most recent findings in this new report give us little to celebrate. We are failing our youth when you consider that they use tobacco at higher rates than adults and are still being exposed to secondhand smoke. We are setting them up for a future of tobacco-related illness and premature death."
Key findings from the report include:
• Between 2008 and 2011, the percentage of middle school students who used any tobacco products in the past 30 days declined from 6.9 percent to 5.6 percent. At the high school level, the percentage declined slightly from 27.0 percent to 25.8 percent. Neither of these decreases is statistically significant. In comparison, 22 percent of adults use tobacco.
• Progress in reducing exposure to secondhand smoke has slowed since 2008, after many years of strong declines. Exposure declined slightly between 2008 and 2011, from 55.4 to 52.5 percent for high school students and from 39.6 percent to 37.7 percent for middle school students.
• Among high school students, preference for menthols has more than doubled since 2000 and is continuing to rise; 47.3 percent of high school smokers usually smoke menthols today, compared to 39.1 percent in 2008 and 19.9 percent in 2000. Menthol appears to make it easier for young people to start smoking.
• One in seven high school students (14.3 percent) report that they have tried snus in their lifetime, and 4.9 percent report using snus in the last 30 days. Snus is a new smokeless tobacco product that comes in small pouches.
• More than one-fourth of high school students (28.6 percent) and 6.8 percent of middle school students report that they have tried flavored cigars and little cigars at some point in their lives. (The FDA recently banned candy flavors, fruit flavors, chocolate and other sweet flavors in cigarettes, but not cigar products.)
Big tobacco’s advertising and promotional tactics are compounding the problem, according to health leaders. They note that the tobacco industry is increasingly active on social networking and video-sharing Internet sites. One in four high school students (26.3 percent) report seeing videos or clips showing smoking most or some of the time on YouTube or other video-sharing sites, and 20.2 percent report seeing "pages" or "groups" for tobacco products on Facebook.
"This report demonstrates the need to maintain long-term teen tobacco prevention strategies," Ehlinger said. "If we rest on our laurels, we will continue to see our progress slow, or even reverse itself, and we cannot stand for that."
So what should be done? Health leaders offer the following strategies that have a proven record of reducing tobacco use among young people:
• Price increases on tobacco products.
• Counter-advertising mass-media campaigns that include TV and radio commercials, posters, and other media messages to counter pro-tobacco marketing.
• Comprehensive school-based tobacco-use prevention policies and programs, such as tobacco-free campuses.
• Community interventions that reduce tobacco advertising, promotions and commercial availability of tobacco products.
We suggest adding another important element to the list: Parent involvement. Parents should take time to continually reinforce the message about the dangers of tobacco use to their children. They should explain to them that 80 percent of adult smokers took up the habit when they were younger than 18, and that using tobacco, in any form, is the nation’s leading cause of preventable disease and death. Of course, it will help greatly if the parents themselves can kick the habit. The alarming numbers from this latest report should give them added incentive.