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Smoking Among High-schoolers Steadily Tumbling

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Rising cigarette prices and anti-smoking campaigns have helped reduce the high school smoking rate to the lowest level since 1991, according to a government report released Thursday.

And, for the first time in about 20 years, a smaller percentage of high school students than adults say they smoke, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report says. Surveys show that about 22% of high school students smoke, compared with roughly 23% of adults.

Smoking among high school students has declined 40% since the peak in 1997, the report says. The price of cigarettes nearly doubled from that year to 2003. A pack of cigarettes today costs an average of $4, says the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The smoking decline shows the USA is making progress in curbing the deadly habit. High school smoking rates rose steadily for much of the 1990s.

''We really lost a generation in the 1990s,'' said Terry Pechacek, associate director of science for the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. ''We're finally shutting off that pipeline.''

The percentage of high school students who have tried cigarettes also has fallen, from 70% in 1991 to 58% last year, the report says. Reducing smoking among those students is crucial because about 90% of adult smokers say they picked up the habit before age 18, said Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends at the American Cancer Society.

Progress could have been more dramatic, Pechacek said. The tobacco industry, however, has nearly doubled what it spends to promote smoking, to $11.2 billion in 2001 from $5.7 billion in 1997. Many cash-strapped states are reducing what they spend to fight youth smoking, even as more films portray smoking as glamorous.

''Youth are very sensitive to inconsistencies of message,'' Pechacek said. ''When they feel that we are telling them not to do something, but that it's OK for adults to do it, that actually makes the product more attractive.''

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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