By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –
(NNPA) - The overall teen smoking rate has declined in the two decades since 1991. But, over the last seven years, the decline has slowed for all teens except African-American females who are leading the way for smoking cessation, according to a recent report released by the CDC.
“The African-American female is the leading success story, and have been for some years now,” said Dr. Terry Pechacek, associate director for science at CDC’s office on smoking and health. “They have more positives in general. We’re seeing higher graduation rates and lower rates of smoking and drug use.”
He said that it’s a fact that African-American students overall have been smoking less than White and Hispanic students for some time but the recently released analysis on teen smoking is the first definite proof that Black teens are not only smoking less but their progress is continuing without slowing unlike other racial/ ethnic groups.
The CDC analyzed data from the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey of high school students in public and private schools in every state to evaluate trends in cigarette use among high school students from 1991-2009.
The findings show that since 2003 the rate of decline in current cigarette use slowed or leveled off for all racial/ethnic groups of both genders except Black female students. They showed no slowing or leveling off in their rate of decline. Race/ethnicity data were analyzed only for non-Hispanic black, non-Hispanic white, and Hispanic students, who are considered an ethnicity and not a race. They could be of any race. The numbers of students from other racial/ethnic groups were too small for meaningful analysis.
According to the study the percentage of students who said they currently smoke cigarettes, which was defined as smoking a cigarette at least one day of the 30 before the survey, went from 27.5 percent in 1991 to 36.4 percent in 1997, declined to 21.9 percent in 2003, and then more gradually, to 19.5 percent in 2009.
Students who answered that they ever smoked or tried cigarettes , taking one or two puffs constituted trying a cigarette, was consistent from 1991 to 1999 at about 70 percent. That category then recessed deeply to 58.4 percent in 2003; and then again in 2009 when the rate was 46.3 percent.
The percentage of teens who were current frequent cigarette users, defined as smoking cigarettes on 20 or more days during the 30 days before the survey, increased from 12.7 percent in 1991 to 16.8 percent in 1999. The rate fell sharply to 9.7 percent in 2003, and more gradually in 2009 when it was 7.3 percent. For all of the categories of teen smokers, rates began to decline in the late 1990s but slowed after 2003 until the study's completion in 2009.
Pechacek said that the major factors of slowed progress of teen smoking is due to decreased funding for anti-tobacco programs in recent years and just a lack of overall attention being paid on confronting the issue. He said also that expanded marketing efforts from tobacco companies, including discounted prices on cigarette brands most popular with adolescents, depictions of tobacco use in movies, distribution of merchandise such as hats and T-shirts with tobacco brands symbols and sponsorship of youth-centric events such as music concerts, helped slow the decline of youth smoking.
“In the early 1990s, The hip-hop culture and the Newport jazz and other types of music and entertainment marketing campaigns that were being done seemed to be affecting Black males more the females,” Pechacek said. “The smoking rates for Black teenage males seemed to be going up a little more than the females.“
The African-American decline in teen smoking started in the early 1980s when the Black community developed a concern for its youth during the rise of the crack epidemic during that time, as well as other factors.
“The African-American community, quite distinctly from Whites and other groups, revered nicotine as a drug of addiction like other drugs of addiction and treated it in a more extreme fashion,” Pechacek said. “For this community, smoking cigarettes was a pathway to smoking marijuana, smoking crack and other pathways that lead to destruction.”
White families, on the other hand, discounted the severity of tobacco by not considering it as a hard or even a gateway drug, he said.
Before the rise of the “crack era” of the 1980s, African-American males had some of the highest smoking rates of any group post-World War II. During the same time, African-American females quickly caught up with their White female counterparts as smokers.
“We want to point to a fact that should be receiving a lot more attention,” Pechacek said. “The African-American community has been making dramatic progress in positive health behaviors. In fact, it’s showing up in lung cancer rates. Traditionally, the lung cancer rates among African-American males have been substantially higher than all other groups in this country. … Even though they are still much higher than what we would like them to be they are showing the most dramatic progress.”