CDC: High-school smoking down sharply _ to lowest rate since 1991, as tobacco taxes rise

Thursday, May 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Smoking by high-school students has dropped to its lowest level in a decade, the government said Thursday, crediting steep cigarette taxes and school programs that discourage kids from picking up the habit.

Just 28.5 percent of high-schoolers in a nationwide survey last year reported they had smoked a cigarette in the previous month _ down from 36.4 percent just five years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The rate is the lowest since 1991, when 27.5 percent of high school students said they smoked. The figure climbed for most of the 1990s before reversing in 1999.

``It is encouraging to see more and more teens making the right choice about smoking,'' said Dr. David Fleming, the CDC's acting director.

Freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors all showed sharp declines from their highs of the 1990s. Seniors still said they smoke most often _ 35.2 percent _ and freshmen the least, at 23.9 percent.

The CDC said the decline was likely the result of higher cigarette taxes. The average retail price of cigarettes jumped 70 percent from December 1997 to May 2001, the agency noted.

School-based anti-smoking programs and anti-tobacco messages aired on national media likely also played a role, the CDC said.

In the survey, 63.9 percent of high-school students said they had taken at least one puff off a cigarette in their lifetimes _ down from 70.2 percent in 1997.

And 13.8 percent said they were frequent smokers, defined as having smoked on at least 20 days in the previous month. That figure was 16.7 percent in 1997.