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Teens are butting out of smoking - Survey shows rates are falling

There's new news about the numbers of teens smoking and it's good - for the most part.

A survey released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in early December indicates that tobacco use among Minnesota teens continues to decline.

The 2008 Youth Tobacco Survey shows that an estimated 12,000 fewer high school and middle school students are using tobacco today than in 2005. The survey provides a wide range of data on tobacco use among teens over the past three years.

Some highlights of the survey include the following:

• The percentage of middle school students who used any tobacco products in the last 30 days fell from 9.5 percent to 6.9 percent.

• The percentage of middle school students who smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days fell from 5.2 percent to 3.4 percent.

• The percentage of high school students using any tobacco products fell from 29.3 percent to 27 percent.

• The percentage of high school students who smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days fell from 22.4 percent to 19.1 percent.

John Heydt, chemical health consultant with Alexandria School District 206, has a sense that the reason the numbers may have dropped is that smoking "is not as cool as it used to be."

In addition, because of the new smoking ban in Minnesota, there appears to be not as many adults smoking - or at least publicly smoking, said Heydt.

"Now, when adults smoke, they almost hide it," he said, adding that the more adults smoke, the more youth are going to mimic them and smoke also.

Heydt also feels that smoking may not come across as glamorous as it once did and is more expensive than it used to be, making it more difficult in today's economic times.

But Heydt also said there's no reason to celebrate yet - today's youth are still smoking and many are smoking menthol cigarettes, which may be more harmful to a person's lungs.

According to MDH, the use of menthol cigarettes has increased sharply, which may be due to the fact that menthol masks the harshness and irritation younger smokers feel when they inhale cigarette smoke - apparently making it easier for teens to start smoking.

The survey also indicated that despite the fact that numbers are dropping, an estimated 85,000 Minnesota teens continue to use tobacco.

The Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey was previously conducted in 2000, 2002 and 2005.

The results of these surveys show that over the past eight years, smoking among teens has dropped by about 63 percent among middle school students and about 41 percent among high school students, according to MDH.

"We're encouraged by the decline of youth tobacco use in Minnesota," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health, Dr. Sanne Magnan. "Many local public health departments, tobacco prevention organizations and other partners contribute to this decline. We have more work to do, however, because tobacco use remains the single most preventable cause of death in this country."