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Smoking Rates Fell Significantly in 1998, But Continued to Rise Among Young Adults

Smoking Rates Fell Significantly in 1998, But Continued to Rise Among Young Adults

ROCKVILLE, Md—Although cigarette smoking has remained relatively stable among youths age 12 to 17 since 1988, the percentage of young adults who smoke rose sharply between 1994 and 1998. According to a new government survey, 41.6% of Americans age 18 to 25 were cigarette smokers last year, up from 34.6% in 1994 and 40.6% in 1997.

Overall, 60 million Americans (27.7%) in 1998 were current cigarette users, defined as having smoked cigarettes at least once in the 30 days prior to their interview. The 1998 number represents a statistically significant decline from 29.6% in 1997.

These statistics were derived from the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, an annual study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Since 1971, the annual survey has served as the primary source of prevalence and incidence estimates for illicit drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. The 1998 report is based on interviews with 25,500 individuals.

An estimated 18.2%, or 4.1 million, of the nation’s 12 to 17 year olds were cigarette smokers last year. This figure was down from 19.9% in 1997, but the change was not statistically significant.

The study also found that youths age 12 to 17 who smoked cigarettes were 11.4 times more likely than nonsmokers to use illicit drugs and 16 times more likely to drink heavily (five or more drinks on the same occasion on five or more days in the month before being interviewed) (see Figure ). Among all current smokers, 14% reported heavy alcohol use, 13.6% said they used marijuana/hashish, and 16.1% reported using other illicit drugs.

Cigar smoking among Americans age 12 and older rose to 6.9% last year from 5.9% in 1997, a statistically significant increase. Male cigar smokers far outnumbered female users, 11.9% vs 2.3%. Among the 12- to 17-year-old age group, 5.6% reported cigar use, a statistically insignificant increase from the 5% who reported such use in 1997. An estimated 3.1% of Americans were smokeless tobacco users in 1998 (5.9% of males and 0.5% of females), a rate that has remained steady since 1991.

Among racial and ethnic groups, 29% of blacks, 28% of whites, 26% of Hispanics, and 24% of other groups were current cigarette smokers last year. Whites led in the use of smokeless tobacco (also called spit tobacco) (3.7%), followed by blacks (2%) and Hispanics (0.8%). More males than females were cigarette smokers in 1998, 29.7% vs 25.7%. However, among the youngest smokers (12 to 17), the gender difference was narrower: 18.7% of boys smoke vs 17.7% of girls. The rate for girls was a significant decline from the 1997 estimate of 20.7%.

Regionally, cigarette smokers accounted for 32% of the population in the North Central United States, 27.9% in the Northeast, and 25.5% in the West.

Cigarette Prices Up

In a move that could lead to some reductions in the number of smokers, the nation’s leading cigarette manufacturers have raised the wholesale price of cigarettes by 18 cents a pack, in anticipation of increases in the excise tax on cigarettes and of costs related to the $206 billion settlement with the states over tobacco-related health care costs.

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