Teenagers and Smoking: No Thanks

Teenage Smoking


In 1991, the percentage of teenagers who admitted to smoking cigarettes was at 27.5%, but a recent revelation gives hope for the future health and well-being of our country. According to a biennial survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2013 percentage for teen smoking has dipped to the lowest numbers in the survey’s history: a surprising 15.7%.

“I think the bottom line is that our teens are choosing health,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said.

The current totals are nearly 20% less than the all-time high of 36.4% in 1997, and well ahead of the U.S. government’s goal of  less than 16% by 2020. Vince Willmore, spokesperson for the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, believes that cigarette taxes and anti-tobacco education has made an impact on our nation’s teen smoking rates. However, his satisfaction with the improved numbers is tempered by the fact that there are “still 2.7 million high school kids who smoke.”

If Fewer Teens are Smoking, Then What are They Doing Instead?

Every positive in the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, seemed to correlate to a no change or negative. The CDC polls more than 13,000 teenagers every two years on topics not just limited to smoking, including drinking, sexual activity, food and soda consumption, exercise decisions and much more. The private and public school students who participated in the 2013 survey gave valuable insights into how they spend their time and what risks they are willing to take.

  • As previously stated, the number of teenagers smoking cigarettes has dipped to historically-low levels, but this does not represent a full disavowal of tobacco and related products. Cigar, e-cigarette and hookah use is on the rise, while smokeless tobacco has remained steady for 15 years.
  • More teenagers are using birth control to combat pregnancy, but condom use has decreased from 63% in 2003 to 59% among the sexually-active one-third of the teen population. (Obviously condoms serve as a form of birth control, but they are vital in the prevention of HIV and STDs.)
  • The percentage of teenagers who watch television for three hours each day has dropped from 43% to 32% since 1999. Conversely, the number of teens who use their computers for “non-school activities” increased by nearly 20% since 2003: from 22% to 41%.

The overall survey numbers are only a sampling of the wider range of risky behaviors teenagers engage in regularly. Other areas of note included a decrease in school fights and weapon possession, no change on the national rate of teenage heroine users and a new focus upon texting/emailing and driving. The survey is broken down regionally, and many of the numbers fluctuate dramatically based upon the teen’s location in the country.

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