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More Students Report Smoking in '95 Than 2 Years Earlier

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Smoking among high school students continues to increase, and most underage smokers say they're not asked for proof of age when they buy cigarettes, a federal survey shows.

In 1995, 34.8 percent of students in grades 9-12 said they had smoked at least once in the last 30 days. Two years earlier, 30.5 percent had smoked in the previous month.

For the study, researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta analyzed data from the 1995 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which measures the prevalence of health-risk behaviors. The biennial survey polled a representative sample of 10,904 students in grades 9-12 nationwide.

One of the most troubling findings was that the proportion of non-Hispanic black male students who reported smoking virtually doubled from 1991 to 1995--from 14.1 percent to 27.8 percent.

African-American girls are the least likely high school students to smoke, the CDC researchers say. Only 12.2 percent of black girls last year said they smoked, a figure that has changed little since 1991.

Non-Hispanic white girls were the most likely of all students to be current smokers--with 39.8 percent saying they had smoked in the last month. They were also the most likely to be frequent smokers, with nearly 21 percent saying they had lit up on at least 20 of the previous 30 days.

More than three-fourths of students who were current smokers said they were not asked to show proof of age when buying cigarettes in the month preceding the survey. It is illegal in every state to sell tobacco products to minors, but enforcement varies widely.

Among the student smokers, 38.7 percent said they usually bought cigarettes in a store. Only 2.2 percent said they used vending machines.

The research on high school smoking appeared in the May 24 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Companies' Proposals

Meanwhile, an announcement last month that two major tobacco companies were proposing federal legislation that would restrict their marketing tactics met with cool responses.

New York City-based Philip Morris usa and UST Inc., a Greenwich, Conn.-based manufacturer of smokeless tobacco products such as Skoal, said they would support measures such as bans on vending machines and advertising near schools and playgrounds and on mass transit.

But the companies said they would only support those steps if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were prevented from regulating tobacco as a drug--a proposal made last summer by the Clinton administration that tobacco companies have challenged in court.

"We continue to believe that restricting access is the best way to address the problem of underage tobacco use," Steven Parrish, a senior vice president at Philip Morris, said in a statement to reporters.

But President Clinton, who thanked the tobacco companies for their efforts, said of the proposal, "I don't think it's enough."

William Novelli, the director of the Washington-based advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, agreed. "While it contains a few modest, positive steps," he said, "it will not stop the increase in tobacco use by kids."

More Smokers

In a 1991 survey, 27.5 percent of students in grades 9-12 reported that they were current smokers. By 1995, that figure had increased to 34.8 percent. The increase for young black men was particularly high, while the smoking rate for young black women remained nearly constant.

Black Males Black Females
1991 14.1% 11.3
1995 27.8% 12.2

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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