The surest way to stop smoking tobacco? Never start. That's why the U.S. government and independent groups have spent millions to inform teens how lethal the habit can be. The efforts have caused youth tobacco use to drop almost every year since 2000. (Rates are now 7.1% for middle schoolers and 23% for high schoolers.) But progress is slowing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were no declines in tobacco use among middle school students from 2009 to 2011; high school rates have leveled off too. Some slowdown is inevitable as overall rates trend toward zero. Still, says Dr. Tim McAfee, a director at the CDC, "we are very concerned that more needs to be done."
Why Teens Keep Smoking
Fewer antismoking ads
Marketing has a big influence on teens. But because of recessionary cuts, state spending for antismoking ads is down at least 30% from five years ago, says McAfee. Even the CDC could afford to run its 2012 ad blitz for only 12 weeks, way less than the tobacco industry.
In 2009 the U.S. government increased taxes on all tobacco products, giving small cigars and cigarettes an especially high rate; that's largely why some packs of cigarettes cost as much as $12--too much for most cash-strapped teens. But large cigars weren't taxed as heavily, and now, at $1.40 a box, they're an affordable option for teens.
No graphic labels
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pushed for ghastly images on cigarette packs--similar to the pictures of mouth cancer that adorn the product in Australia--the tobacco industry was able to block the legislation in court. As a result, the U.S. isn't benefiting from the shock value that's worked so well overseas, and teens are exposed only to text warnings from the Surgeon General.
More enticing flavors
Flavored cigarettes were banned in the U.S. in 2009, but because cigar and pipe tobaccos aren't heavily regulated by the FDA, manufacturers have started releasing them in more flavors--such as peach, apple and chocolate--that appeal to younger smokers.
Sources: American Legacy Foundation; CDC; FDA