Editorial: Despite progress, teen smoking remains far too commonplace
A recent government report gauging to what extent our nation's youth engage in risky behaviors turned up a positive trend in at least one regard. Fewer high school students are smoking cigarettes.
The report came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is based on its Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey of students across America in 2013. Among the questions asked were a group related to use of tobacco, including whether high school-age students had smoked at least one cigarette in the previous 30 days.
The findings showed that nationally the percentage of youth who had done so was 15.7 percent. That was down slightly from 18.1 percent in a similar survey in 2011 and way below the 34.8 percent who answered yes to that question 15 years ago.
A state-by-state breakdown showed that the number of teen smokers had fallen in all but three states compared with 2011 data.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear this week noted the improvement that his state exhibited, falling from a percentage of 24.1 in 2011 to just under 18 percent last year. Kentucky had the highest rate of teen smokers in the country in 2011, but the more recent findings give it the sixth-highest rate. Ohio also showed improvement, with its rate falling from 21.1 percent to 15.1 percent.
The same level of progress hasn't occurred recently in West Virginia, however. In the 2013 survey, 19.6 percent of surveyed teens said they had smoked in the previous month, a slight increase from 19.1 percent two years before. And with most other states showing improvement, the Mountain State supplanted Kentucky as having the highest percentage of teen smokers of any state; it ranked 13th previously.
It's important to note West Virginia has seen some improvement in its teen smoking rate. A state survey indicated that more than 38.5 percent of West Virginia teens smoked in 2000, and a little less than a decade ago the rate was still about 25 percent. But the rate of improvement has slowed, and the sometimes sharp declines in other states raises questions about whether the Mountain State is being aggressive enough in addressing the issue.
The first step, no doubt, should be to learn more about what states with far lower teen smoking rates are doing to convince their teens to stay away from tobacco. A comparison of policies and programs could prove to be useful. Are sufficient health education classes required in schools, and are they adequately touching on the harmful effects of smoking? Are teachers properly trained in tobacco use prevention? Are public health agencies doing enough to educate the public about the negatives of smoking and are enough of their messages directed at youth?
Some of the same questions may be appropriate in regard to adults, too. The percentage of adult smokers in West Virginia also is relatively high, and that more than likely influences teens. Are public health programs doing enough to attack smoking by adults, including promoting smoking cessation programs?
Those are a lot of questions, but considering the well-known negative health effects from smoking, they are worth asking so that perhaps more effective strategies can be developed.
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