Teen Smoking Rate Drops to Historic Low in 2017, City Says

Fewer Chicago teens are smoking cigarettes, according to data from a newly released survey.

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Last year, just 6 percent of high school students reported smoking cigarettes – a nearly 60-percent drop from 2011 when 13.6 percent of teens reported smoking. Typically conducted every two years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System last year polled 1,883 Chicago public high school students on a range of behaviors, including tobacco use. The poll was first conducted in 1991.

“Chicago has become a national leader in the fight against tobacco and as these numbers prove, that fight is paying off,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “From raising the age to purchase tobacco to regulating e-cigarettes, we are creating Chicago’s first tobacco-free generation.”

Late last fall, the city announced a drop in smoking rates among young adults after raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in Chicago to 21, a rule which took effect on July 1, 2016. The city’s December 2016 survey found that 9.7 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds reported smoking. In 2015, that figure was 15.2 percent.

Raising the minimum purchase age was one contributing factor to the decrease in teen cigarette smoking, according to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita.

In addition to the tobacco law, city officials have increased taxes on tobacco and banned the sale of flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of high schools.

“Another thing we’ve done is to make sure young people know what the risks are when you use tobacco,” Morita said. “We’ve had campaigns related to menthol-flavored tobacco products, as well as cotton candy-flavored products ... [we’re] making sure people are aware of the risks associated with the products.”

Prior to Monday’s announcement, city officials had a goal of reducing youth cigarette smoking by 10 percent by 2020. While officials are “thrilled” to have surpassed that goal, they acknowledge there’s still more work to do, according to Morita. “The mayor’s goal and our goal here at CDPH is to get to a tobacco-free generation, and 6 percent of students is still not tobacco-free,” she said.

In addition to smoking cigarettes, 7.2 percent of teens surveyed said they’ve smoked cigars, 4.5 percent have used smokeless tobacco and 6.6 percent have used e-cigarettes.

A recent study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found e-cigarettes could help adult smokers quit, but could serve as a “gateway” for youngers smokers to other tobacco products.

“Our concern is even though they may be useful for adults to stop smoking, they are also serving as a gateway to youth,” Morita said of e-cigarettes. “They still contain nicotine and we know that young people’s brains are still developing and [are] very susceptible to nicotine so that it affects their development. It also leads to addiction to nicotine, which then leads them to try and experiment with other tobacco products – smoking included.”

City officials think taking the same approach to e-cigarettes as they did with regular cigarettes could be effective in deterring teens from picking them up in the first place. “We know making them less accessible, less affordable and less attractive will decrease their use,” she said.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz [email protected] | (773) 509-5452

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