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Published in Print: April 14, 1999, as After Anti-Smoking Effort, Fla. Youths Light Up Less

After Anti-Smoking Effort, Fla. Youths Light Up Less

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A Florida program aimed at reducing smoking among students statewide may offer the first whiff of evidence that a combination of media campaigns, education, and increased cigarette prices can significantly drive down youth-smoking rates, a federal report suggests.

Just one year after Florida enacted a comprehensive, $70 million anti-smoking campaign directed at teenagers, adolescent-smoking rates in the state have registered the largest single-year drop--19 percent--in the United States since the 1970s.

In a study conducted by the Florida health department and published in the April 2 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers found that the number of middle school students in Florida who said they had smoked cigarettes in the past month dropped from 18.5 percent in 1998 to 15 percent this year.

Smoking rates among high school students fell 8 percent during the same period; in 1998, 27.4 percent of the state's high school students smoked cigarettes within the last month, but only 25.2 percent did so this year.

Cigars, Smokeless Tobacco

The study, which surveyed 22,500 middle and high school students in 255 schools across Florida, also showed a decline in the number of middle school students who had smoked cigars or used smokeless tobacco in the past month.

The number of middle school students who had smoked cigars dropped from 14 percent last year to 11 percent this year; smokeless-tobacco use among middle school students fell from 6.9 percent to 4.9 percent.

The researchers recorded no significant change, however, in the rates of cigar or smokeless-tobacco use by students in high school.

Price and Program

Nationwide price increases imposed by tobacco companies last year--an estimated average of 60 cents per pack--may have contributed to the decline in smoking rates among Florida students, said Michael Eriksen, the director of the CDC's Center for Smoking and Health.

But Mr. Eriksen said that Florida's aggressive campaign against tobacco use gets much of the credit for driving down smoking rates among young people.

"These data reinforce the importance of a comprehensive approach," Mr. Eriksen said. "When you look at Florida, and you see what they've done, other states can expect the same results if they do the same."

Last year, the Florida legislature appropriated $70 million for the Pilot Program on Tobacco Control, financed from the $13 billion tobacco lawsuit settlement forged between the state and the tobacco industry in 1997.

The linchpin of the state's anti-smoking program is the "Truth" campaign, a slick blitz of television and radio advertisements and roadside billboards. Most include teenagers who accuse the tobacco industry of distorting the truth about cigarettes and lying to them about the dangers of smoking.

Florida's program also organizes tobacco-free events, such as fairs and dances, for young people across the state. The state also has commissioned specialized books and curricula for K-12 students to help educate them about resisting peer pressure to smoke.

Last year, the state doubled its funding for enforcement of existing statutes that fine or impose community service on teenagers who are caught smoking cigarettes and that penalize retailers who sell cigarettes to minors.

Vol. 18, Issue 31, Page 12

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