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Black, Hispanic Youth Smoking on Rise

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Tobacco use by adolescents from racial and ethnic minorities has been increasing at a much greater rate than it has among white adolescents, says a U.S. surgeon general's report released last week.

Minority teenagers are still smoking at considerably lower rates than white teenagers. But cigarette-smoking rates rose among African-American and Hispanic adolescents in the 1990s after several years of decline.

From 1991 to 1997, the smoking rate for high school students overall climbed by one-third, according to the report. During the same period, however, cigarette smoking among black teenagers jumped 80 percent, the study found.

 Dr. David Satcher

"We are witnessing a potentially tragic reversal for the health of American minorities," said the newly installed surgeon general, Dr. David Satcher. The former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Satcher said the youth-smoking trend threatens to reverse the steady decline in lung-cancer rates for adult minority populations.

The study, conducted as part of the CDC's ongoing assessment of tobacco use in the United States, complements earlier research that has chronicled the rise in adolescent smoking.

President Clinton last week used the report to check eroding bipartisan support for legislation on Capitol Hill to reduce youth smoking.

The controversial legislation, which would ratify an agreement between 40 states' attorneys general and the nation's largest tobacco companies, would require the tobacco industry to spend millions of dollars on education campaigns and accept certain marketing restrictions in an attempt to drive youth-smoking rates down by 60 percent in a decade.

Making condoms available to students at school does not encourage more students to have sex, but does increase use of the prophylactic by sexually active students, a recent study has found.

Researchers at the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif., compared rates of sexual activity and condom use among 1,945 students at a Los Angeles high school both before and one year after a condom-availability program was begun in April 1992. The program provided unrestricted access to packets of condoms in four classrooms and outside the nurse's office. The packages included an instruction sheet and a warning that read: "Condoms are not 100 percent effective in preventing AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, or pregnancy. Abstinence is! Not all teenagers are sexually active. Think before you act!" No new sex education curricula for the 9th to 12th graders were added to supplement the condom-availability program.

The study found that the first year after the program went into effect, the percentage of young men who reported using a condom the first time they had sexual intercourse increased from 65 percent to 80 percent. The proportion of sexually active male students who reported using condoms each time they engaged in sex jumped by one-third, from 37 percent at the start of the program to 50 percent at the end of the first year.

Nationally, critics of such programs have argued that making contraceptives available to students fosters sexual behavior. But this study found that the percentage of sexually active students did not increase after the program was implemented.

The study is consistent with a recent report on a New York City condom-availability program, which also found no evidence that making condoms accessible spurred increased sexual activity among students.

Whether because of illness or noise pollution, about 15 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 suffer from either high- or low-frequency hearing loss, a federal report has found.

Epidemiologists at the CDC reviewed hearing tests given to 6,166 children between 1988 and 1992 for the study, which was published in the April 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The CDC report found that 12 percent of the children had high-frequency hearing loss in one or both ears, a condition that makes it difficult to detect ringing telephones, ticking watches, or other high-pitched sounds. About 7 percent of the youths demonstrated low-frequency hearing loss, which often makes it difficult to hear barking dogs, lawn movers, or human speech.

Low-frequency hearing loss is typically caused by ear infections, or built-up earwax, while high-frequency loss is most often caused by noise, meningitis, medications, and congenital syphilis.

While there are no data showing whether the rates represent a growing trend in hearing loss among youths, researchers say the study should help raise awareness that many children have trouble hearing outside the normal range.

To prevent hearing loss, Amanda Niskar, an epidemiologist with the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health and the lead researcher for the study, recommended that school systems screen for both frequencies, and make referrals for follow-up testing and intervention when needed.

--JESSICA PORTNER jportner@epe.org

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Web Resources
  • For tips on smoke-free schools, visit the Smokefree Kids Web site.
  • See the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids' Web site for a chart that outlines methods of controlling smoking among U.S. young people.
  • Read an abstract of the article on hearing loss in children from the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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