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A Smoke-Free Generation Is Within Reach — And Here’s How

Why youth tobacco use is on the decline.


Tobacco use among American youths has fallen to historic lows over the past six years.

A generation that doesn’t smoke is coming. Youth tobacco use has always been an issue, and for the first time, we seem to be making real progress toward leaving it behind. Smoking is already a health risk, but developing a nicotine addiction before turning 18 is a greater public health danger. In the last six years, however, we’ve seen the biggest drop yet in youth tobacco usage.

Generally, kids under 18 pick up smoking in high school or through friends. But because of public messaging and successful marketing campaigns, cigarettes seem to be losing some of their appeal.

Image by Trinity Kubassek/Pexels.

According to a report from the Center for Disease Control, there were 3.9 million middle or high school kids using tobacco in 2016. This is down from 4.7 million in 2015. Before being surveyed by the CDC, 8% of the participants had smoked in the month leading up to the survey. In 2011, it was nearly 16%.

While the drop is primarily attributed to marketing materials and campaigns, it doesn’t seem to be reaching middle schoolers as much as it’s affecting high schoolers. The CDC report showed almost no decline in middle school smoking rates, and only a 1% decline in e-cigarette usage rates among middle schoolers.

And what about e-cigarettes? It’s true that as the use of traditional cigarettes among youths has declined, vaping has become more popular. From 2011 to 2016, underage e-cigarette usage rose from 1.5% to 11.3%. But there’s good news in there too: From 2015 to 2016, e-cigarette usage saw a sharp decline. In 2015, 16% of participants had used an e-cigarette in the month before the survey. In 2016, only 11.3% had. So the marketing campaigns may have started to discourage to e-cigarette culture in a way that’s gaining traction.

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