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Tobacco use is the single leading preventable cause of death in the United States.1 Preventing initiation of tobacco use is a public health priority. Approximately 80% of persons who use tobacco begin before age 18 years,1 and the prevalence of cigarette smoking among high school students nationwide increased during the 1990s.2 This report presents findings of a study that examined trends in cigarette smoking among high school students in 11 states that collected Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data during the 1990s. In six of the 11 states, the prevalence of current smoking and frequent smoking increased among high school students.
The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System measures the prevalence of health-risk behaviors among adolescents through biennial representative school-based surveys conducted separately at the national, state, and local levels. In 1997, 39 states conducted YRBS. This report presents YRBS results from 11 state surveys conducted by state education and health agencies where representative data were obtained (i.e., a scientifically selected sample, an overall response rate of ≥60%, and appropriate survey documentation) in 1997 and in at least two additional years since 1991. The 1991, 1993, 1995, and 1997 state surveys used a two-stage cluster sample design to produce representative samples of 9th- to 12th-grade students in each participating state. Data were available from 1991 to 1997 in Alabama, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah and from 1993 to 1997 in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Vermont, and West Virginia. Across all sites and years, sample sizes ranged from 1192 to 8636, school response rates ranged from 70% to 100%, student response rates ranged from 61% to 91%, and overall response rates ranged from 60% to 87%.
For each of the cross-sectional surveys, students completed an anonymous self-administered questionnaire that included questions about cigarette smoking. The wording of these questions was identical in each survey. Lifetime cigarette smoking was defined as having ever smoked cigarettes, even one or two puffs. Current cigarette smoking was defined as smoking on ≥1 of the 30 days preceding the survey, and frequent cigarette smoking was defined as smoking on ≥20 of the 30 days preceding the survey. Students were asked at what age they first smoked a whole cigarette. Beginning in 1993, students were asked whether they smoked cigarettes on school property on ≥1 of the 30 days preceding the survey.
Data were weighted to provide estimates generalizable to all public school students in grades 9-12 in each state. The relative percentage change in behavior from the earliest survey conducted (baseline) to 1997 was calculated as the 1997 prevalence minus the baseline prevalence divided by the baseline prevalence. SUDAAN was used for all data analysis. Secular trends were analyzed using logistic regression analyses that controlled for sex, grade, and race/ethnicity (except in Vermont, where students were not asked about race/ethnicity) and that simultaneously assessed linear and higher order (i.e., quadratic) time effects.3 Quadratic trends suggest a significant but nonlinear trend in the data over time. When the trend includes significant linear and quadratic components, the data demonstrate some nonlinear variation (e.g., leveling off or change in direction) in addition to a linear effect. In 1993, Alabama did not ask students about lifetime, current, or frequent smoking or the age at which students smoked their first cigarette; therefore, only linear trend analyses were performed for Alabama for those variables.
In South Carolina, South Dakota, and Vermont, lifetime smoking among high school students significantly increased linearly from baseline to 1997. The percentage increase in these states was 2%, 8%, and 5%, respectively. Massachusetts and Nevada showed significant quadratic trends, with the highest prevalence occurring in 1995.
The prevalence of current smoking significantly increased linearly in Alabama, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina, and South Dakota with percentage increases of 29%, 14%, 13%, 24%, 51%, and 42%, respectively. Massachusetts also showed a significant quadratic trend, with leveling between 1995 and 1997. South Carolina showed a significant quadratic trend, with leveling between 1991 and 1993 followed by increases in 1995 and 1997.
In Alabama, Massachusetts, Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Vermont frequent smoking significantly increased linearly from baseline to 1997 with percentage increases of 26%, 19%, 52%, 39%, 49%, and 21%, respectively. Vermont also showed a significant quadratic trend, with leveling between 1995 and 1997.
The proportion of students who reported smoking a whole cigarette before age 13 years significantly decreased linearly from baseline to 1997 in Nevada and Utah. The percentage decrease was 17% in Nevada and 32% in Utah. Utah also showed a significant quadratic trend, with leveling between 1993 and 1995 before a decline in 1997.
In Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and South Dakota, smoking on school property among high school students significantly increased linearly from 1993 to 1997. Percentage increases were 24%, 45%, 36%, and 32%, respectively.
Div of Adolescent and School Health and Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC.
For all five behaviors, trends among high school students in most of the 11 states were consistent with trends from the national YRBS.* From baseline to 1997, the prevalence of students reporting lifetime smoking remained stable in six states and across the nation,4 although in three states, lifetime smoking increased. The prevalence of current and frequent smoking increased in six states and remained stable in five states; in 1995, current smoking peaked in Massachusetts and frequent smoking leveled in Vermont. Across the nation, from 1991 to 1997, current smoking2 and frequent smoking increased 32%4; from 1993 to 1997, current smoking increased 19%, and frequent smoking increased 21%.4 The percentage of students who reported smoking before age 13 years remained stable in nine states and across the nation4 and decreased in two states. Smoking on school property remained stable in six states and across the nation4 and increased in four states.
Additional research is needed to understand the variations between state and national trends. Differences in sociodemographic factors, efforts to prevent tobacco use, tobacco use policies, and enforcement of access laws may account for these variations. The tobacco industry's promotional strategies, such as reducing cigarette wholesale prices in Massachusetts following the January 1993 excise tax increase,5 also may have influenced state-specific trends.
The findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations. First, these data apply only to adolescents who attend public high school. In 1996, in the states for which data were available, high school dropout rates ranged from 2.9% to 9.6%.6 Second, the extent of underreporting or overreporting in YRBS cannot be determined, although the survey questions demonstrate good test-retest reliability.7 Finally, although the data for each state are representative of the students in that state, the states that were examined in this study may not be representative of all states.
To reduce tobacco use among youth, CDC recommends that states establish and sustain comprehensive tobacco-control programs.8 Although many states are allocating resources to tobacco control, no state is implementing all recommended program components. Comprehensive tobacco-control programs should reduce the appeal of tobacco products, implement youth-oriented mass media campaigns, increase tobacco excise taxes, and reduce youth access to tobacco products.1 CDC's "Guidelines for School Health Programs to Prevent Tobacco Use and Addiction" recommends school-based tobacco-use prevention programs in grades K-12, with intensive instruction in grades 6-8.9 In support of this recommendation, CDC identifies evidence-based curricula to prevent tobacco use and addiction through its Research-to-Classroom program. These programs are most effective when linked to communitywide programs involving families, peers, and community organizations.9 The guidelines also recommend tobacco-free school-sponsored functions and tobacco-free school buildings, property, and vehicles. Consistent with these recommendations, the Pro-Children Act of 1994 requires smoke-free environments in schools receiving federal funds.10 However, most schools lack comprehensive prohibitions identified in the guidelines,10 and smoking on school property is increasing in some states.
The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System provides an important mechanism to track state progress in reducing tobacco use and other important health risk behaviors among youth. CDC provides support to every state to collect and use YRBS data. States also can conduct the Youth Tobacco Survey to obtain additional information about tobacco use and related factors.11 If these efforts are expanded and maintained, all states could obtain data essential for planning and monitoring tobacco-use prevention programs for youth.
Cigarette Smoking Among High School Students—11 States, 1991-1997. JAMA. 1999;282(10):935-936. doi:10.1001/jama.282.10.935-JWR0908-2-1