Researchers revealed that among high school smokers, the percentage of teens considered heavy smokers – having more than 11 cigarettes each day – dropped from 18% in 1991 to about 8% in 2009. At the same time, occasional smoking rose from 67% to 79%.
"I have noticed more teenagers seem be smoking just a few cigarettes per day," Dr John Frohna, a professor of paediatrics and internal medicine at University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a news release from the Centre for Advancing Health.
In the study, which is published online and in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers analysed data from students in grades 9 through 12 who participated in national Youth Risk Behaviour Surveys, which included about 11,000 to 16,410 public and private high school students. The surveys included questions about smoking habits.
Figures of smoking teens
The study found that of the 19.5% of today's high school students who call themselves "smokers", most don't smoke every day or very often.
The downward trend of heavy smoking among high school students, however, did not apply to black or Hispanic teens. Researchers found no change in the smoking habits of black students surveyed. Meanwhile, the percentage of Hispanic students who smoked heavily increased from 3.1% to 6.4%.
Although fewer teens are smoking heavily, even occasional smoking is cause for alarm, noted Frohna. "I do think there are fewer kids in my practice who are smoking heavily, but I remain concerned that they are smoking at all. We need to continue to reinforce the message that any smoking is unsafe. We also need to ensure strong enforcement of laws against selling cigarettes to children," he said.
"It is important to note that light and intermittent smoking still has significant health risks," the study's co-author, Terry Pechacek, associate director for science at the Office on Smoking and Health of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, noted in the news release.
"Even though smoking prevalence among youth and adults has slowed, we're closely watching to see whether light and intermittent smoking persists into adulthood, despite tobacco control policies and changes in social norms that have previously led to sharper declines."
(HealthDay News, August 2011)