Fewer teens are smoking, but not few enough, cancer expert says

December 22, 2012 | by Shawn Le

Fewer high school students are choosing to smoke cigarettes, according to a new National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) report, with rates reaching historic lows. That’s welcome news for City of Hope’s Dan J. Raz, M.D., director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program — but not welcome enough.

U.S. high school students are continuing to turn away from smoking, new report shows. U.S. high school students are continuing to turn away from smoking, new report shows.

More can be done, he said, to prevent people from picking up the habit.

The Monitoring the Future Survey, as the report is known, paints a portrait of the tobacco, drug and alcohol usage of American teens. The newest version, released Dec. 14, reveals that smoking is continuing to decline among teenagers, with 10.6 percent of surveyed students reporting having smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days. Meanwhile, the overall number of teens who reported never having smoked tobacco rose.

The report is an annual survey of actual use by students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades as well as a gauge of their attitudes toward legal and illegal substances. More than 45,000 students in 395 public and private schools participated in this year’s survey.

“Any drop in teen smoking is good,” said Raz. “The public health impact of tobacco is still enormous though and entirely preventable.”

NIDA director Nora Volkow, M.D., expressed the same concern in a press release about this year’s survey results. “The teen smoking rate is declining much more slowly than in years past, and we are seeing teens consume other tobacco products at high levels,” she said. “This highlights the urgency of maintaining strong prevention efforts against teen smoking and of targeting other tobacco products.”

The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in 1998, and additional cigarette-specific tax hikes approved in numerous states since then, designated funds for smoking education and prevention.

“Unfortunately, the vast majority of the billions of dollars of tax revenue from cigarette taxes and the tobacco settlement go toward filling general budget holes,” said Raz, “rather than creating programs preventing cigarette smoking, facilitating tobacco cessation and screening smokers for tobacco-related diseases including lung cancer.”

The World Health Organization estimates that almost 6 million people around the world die prematurely from smoking-related causes each year. The American Cancer Society blames smoking for 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 80 percent of lung cancer deaths.

“I would be thrilled if people stopped smoking,” Raz said. “Even if no one smoked, though, lung cancer would still be the fifth most-common cause of cancer death.”

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