CDC Documents Increases in Teen Smoking

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As congressional leaders debated legislation last week intended to discourage young people from smoking, federal officials released statistics showing how daunting that job could be.

Smoking rates among high school students rose sharply during the 1990s, with the steepest rise among black teenagers, according to a study released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The annual Youth Risk Behavior Study measures cigarette, smokeless-tobacco, and cigar use among more than 16,000 students in grades 9 though 12 across the country.

The percentage of high school students who reported smoking cigarettes in the previous month has climbed by nearly one-third in this decade, from 27 percent in 1991 to 36 percent last year, the report says. By comparison, the percentage of black students who reported using cigarettes in the past month jumped by 80 percent, from 12 percent in 1991 to 22 percent last year. The CDC researchers did not address the reasons for the hike in smoking rates among the various groups.

Tobacco-Bill Action

The CDC study may give Clinton administration officials added ammunition at a time when the debate in Congress is intensifying over legislation intended to curb youth-smoking rates dramatically.

The Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill last week that would restrict marketing of tobacco products and hike cigarette prices through a $1.10-a-pack tax increase over the next five years.

The measure, S 1415, which passed on a 19-1 vote, would also limit tobacco companies' civil liability for smoking-related lawsuits to $6.5 billion a year. But the companies would lose the limit on their liability if they failed to meet the bill's target of reducing youth smoking by 60 percent over the next decade. ("Getting Teens To Kick the Habit A Daunting Task," Feb. 11, 1998.)

The committee's action was the first since the nation's largest tobacco companies forged an agreement last June with 40 state attorneys general to settle lawsuits over the public-health costs of smoking. But the deal faces many obstacles as it moves to the Senate floor. Tobacco-industry representatives say some restrictions are overly punitive, while industry opponents claim the bill fails to penalize the companies enough. Congress is expected to return to the issue when it returns from a legislative break later this month.

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Web Resources
  • The National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids is an alliance of such national health advocacy organizations as the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Its Web site contains the center's statement on the tobacco industry settlement.
  • Read a copy of the June 20, 1997, tobacco industry settlement, which outlines the restrictions on marketing and advertising, the penalties, and other aspects of the settlement, from the State Tobacco Information Center.
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