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High school students show a slower rate of decline in smoking in recent years

July 8, 2010 |  4:11 pm

One in five high school students in the U.S. is still smoking, and the rate of decline in smoking has slowed, according to a new report released Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

L39z6zncSmoking rates among high school students slowed dramatically from the late 1990s through the early 2000s. But those rates of decline decreased more gradually from the early to late 2000s. The CDC analyzed data from the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey of high school students in public and private schools in all states and the District of Columbia.

The percentage of students who said they currently smoke cigarettes (defined as smoking a cigarette at least one day of the 30 before the survey) went from 27.5% in 1991 to 36.4% in 1997, then went down to 21.9% in 2003. In 2009 that number was 19.5%, representing a slower decline.

The percentage of students who ever smoked or tried cigarettes (even taking one or two puffs constituted trying a cigarette) stayed steady from 1991 to 1999. That category then saw a big dip -- rates went from 70.4% in 1999 to 58.4% in 2003. Another gradual decline was seen after that, to 46.3% in 2009.

High schools students who said they were currently frequent cigarette smokers (smoking at least 20 days out of the 30 prior to the survey) went from 12.7% in 1991 to 16.8% in 1999. It went down to 9.7% in 2003, then saw yet another slight decline to 7.3% in 2009.

Current cigarette smoking rates declined for all racial, ethnic and gender subgroups -- except for black females. That group saw no leveling off or slowing in rates of decline after 1999.

"Although four of five don't smoke, it's discouraging to see that current smoking did not continue to decline more rapidly among youth," said CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden in a news release. "Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in this country and nine out of 10 adults started smoking in their teens or earlier. The slow progress since 2003 tells us that much more needs to be done to reduce youth smoking."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: The rate of decline in smoking among high school students has slowed in recent years. Credit: Greg Wood / AFP/Getty Images