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Tobacco Use Among Minnesota Teens Declines

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) today announced results of a new survey showing that tobacco use among Minnesota's teens continues to decline. The 2008 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey provides a wide range of data on tobacco use among teens over the past three years.

Among the findings:

* The percentage of middle school students who used any tobacco products in the past 30 days fell from 9.5 percent to 6.9 percent.

* The percentage of middle school students who smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days fell from 5.2 to 3.4 percent.

* The percentage of high school students using any tobacco products fell from 29.3 percent to 27.0 percent.

* The percentage of high school students who smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days fell from 22.4 to 19.1 percent.

These numbers mean that 12,000 fewer high school and middle school students are using tobacco today than in 2005. Unfortunately, 85,000 students continue to use tobacco. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one-third of these teens will eventually die from smoking-related diseases if they continue smoking into adulthood.

The youth tobacco survey was previously conducted in 2000, 2002 and 2005. The results of these surveys show that over the past eight years, smoking dropped by 63 percent among middle school students and 41 percent among high school students, and any tobacco use dropped by 45 percent among middle school students and 30 percent among high school students.

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"We're encouraged by the continued decline in youth tobacco use in Minnesota," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Sanne Magnan. "Many local public health departments, tobacco prevention organizations and other partners contributed to this decline. We have more work to do, however, because tobacco use remains the single most preventable cause of death in this country."

The new Freedom to Breathe Act is likely helping to discourage youth tobacco use, according to Dr. Jane Korn, a chronic disease epidemiologist with MDH. "Smoke-free laws create a positive example for young people and lead to decreased smoking," said Korn. She noted that nearly 90 percent of the middle school students surveyed believe that smoking should never be allowed inside their homes, their vehicles, at workplaces and in indoor public places. Support among high school students ranges from 71 percent for vehicles to 81 percent for indoor public places.

Korn expressed concern about several findings in the survey.

* While tobacco use and smoking have declined substantially for female high school students since 2005, the rates have not changed for males.

* The use of menthol cigarettes by students has increased sharply. This may be due to the fact that menthol masks the harshness and irritation younger smokers feel when they inhale cigarette smoke, making it easier for them to start smoking.

* The tobacco industry spends approximately $228 million every year marketing their products in Minnesota, and they continue to release new products to lure potential smokers.

"While most of the news in our survey is good, we need to pay special attention to a number of the findings," Korn said. "Over the coming months, we will take a close look at all of the findings and determine how we can make sure the rates continue to decline."

Magnan emphasized that tobacco prevention is one of the goals of the state's new Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), which is part of the health reform legislation passed during the 2008 legislative session. SHIP provides an opportunity to promote the use of best practices in tobacco prevention across the state. SHIP implementation will begin in July 2009, when grants will be distributed to community health boards and tribal governments across Minnesota.

The youth tobacco survey mirrors results of the Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey, released in September by ClearWay Minnesota, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health. That survey showed that adult smoking has declined to 17 percent, from 19.1 percent in 2003, an 11 percent decrease.

"Taken together, both of these surveys show that we are making progress toward reducing the number one preventable cause of death in the Minnesota," Magnan said. "We can be proud of our progress, but if we want to see these trends continue, we must remain vigilant and continue fighting to protect all Minnesotans from the hazards of tobacco."