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  Monitoring the Future study
Cigarette smoking among American teens continues 8-year decline

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Smoking rates among American teens continue to decline, with the proportion who are current smokers in 2004 down from recent peak levels in the mid-1990s by one-half among the nation's 8th and 10th graders and by a third among 12th graders.

"That's the good news, and it is good news indeed," says Lloyd Johnston, the researcher who is principal investigator of the Monitoring the Future study. "The bad news is that the decline has decelerated sharply in the past two years, though it still continues for the most part."

And the number of teen smokers is still substantial: 25 percent of 12th graders reported smoking in the prior 30 days, along with 16 percent of 10th graders and 9 percent of 8th graders.

The study has been funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse under a series of investigator-initiated, competitive research grants made to U-M. The authors of the forthcoming report on the 2004 findings are Johnston, Patrick O'Malley, Jerald Bachman and John Schulenberg—all psychologists and research professors at the Institute for Social Research.

After a sharp increase in teen smoking rates in the early 1990s, there was a turnaround after 1996 in the lower grades and after 1997 among 12th graders. The investigators conjecture that a number of factors contributed to that turnaround and to the substantial decline that followed it, including:

• The intense adverse publicity suffered by the tobacco industry during the 1990s, as their practices were brought under public scrutiny

• The master settlement agreement between the state attorneys general and the tobacco industry that led to a number of changes in marketing practices

• A sharp rise in cigarette prices, partly as a result of the industry's need to recoup monies lost in the settlement

• Retirement of the Joe Camel character, which appeared in Camel cigarette advertisements

• The cessation of billboard advertising as part of the settlement

• The initiation of anti-smoking ads by a number of states and nationally by the American Legacy Foundation, which was created and funded under the settlement.

"We know that young people have come to see cigarette smoking as more dangerous, while they also have become less accepting of cigarette use, and these changes continued into 2004," Johnston says.

A number of attitudes about smoking shifted in a negative direction. For example, the proportion of 12th graders who say that they prefer to date people who do not smoke rose from 64 percent in 1977 to 72 percent in 2002, where it remains in 2004.

There are some important subgroup differences in teen smoking. The gender differences in smoking are quite small at present, but the differences associated with planning to go to college, or not, are very large. Students who plan to complete a four-year college education are much less likely to smoke than those who do not have such plans. Youth living in rural areas and small town areas are considerably more likely to smoke than those living in metropolitan areas.

Those students with more educated parents are less likely to smoke, particularly at younger ages. Finally, African American youngsters continue to have a substantially lower rate of smoking than do whites or Hispanics, and whites tend to have the highest rates of the three groups.

"Whether we will see teen smoking continue to decline in the future is likely to depend on what actions society and the tobacco companies take," Johnston says.

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