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Newly-released data, reported in the July 17 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (2002;51: 409–412), indicated smoking among high school students peaked in the late 1990s, and is now declining. The data are from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a biennial Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey of the prevalence of health risk behaviors among high school students.

The CDC report shows that the percentage of these students who have ever tried tobacco was stable throughout much of the 1990s, then fell from 70.4 percent in 1999 to about 63.9 percent in 2001.

The percentage of high school students who smoked on one or more days in the 30 days before the survey dropped from 36.4 percent in 1997 to 28.5 percent in 2001. In 1999, 16.8 percent of high school students described themselves as frequent smokers (smoking on 20 out of the 30 days before the survey), but that fell to 13.8 percent in 2001.

“When the tobacco companies lost the lawsuit that made them pay for the disease tobacco has caused, they passed the costs of their legal problems onto smokers, raising the cost of cigarettes out of the reach of many young people,” said Ron Todd, MSEd, Director of Tobacco Control for the American Cancer Society. And some states have raised tobacco taxes in recent years, said Todd.

Some states have used the money they got from the tobacco settlement to expand programs to educate young people on the dangers of tobacco and to prevent their using it, said Todd, and that has also helped.