Youth Smoking, Smokeless Tobacco Use Rates Post Significant Decline

June 12, 2003

Youth prevention advocates and state officials joined forces today to announce that high school smoking prevalence has dropped by 20 percent in West Virginia since 1999 – and that means an estimated 9,500 teens who otherwise might be addicted to cigarettes are not going to start smoking.  

High school smoking prevalence dropped from 42.2 percent in 1999 to 33.7 percent in 2002 as measured by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and the Youth Tobacco Survey (YTS). The two surveys are administered periodically in state public schools and ask similar questions about tobacco use, allowing state prevention officials to develop a picture of youth tobacco use in the state.  

The rate of high school boys who said they used spit tobacco on one or more days in the past 30 days fell from 26.5 percent in 2000 to 21.5 percent in 2002.  

The results were announced at the opening session of the Raze On 2003 anti-tobacco teen summit on the Concord College campus today. The event sports the theme "20 For Us" to highlight both the 20 percent drop in the teen smoking prevalence and to reinforce the conviction that much more work is still needed to continue to reduce the number of teens using tobacco. The opening session is being hosted by three teen members of the Raze movement: Jilleyn Gore of Chapmanville, William Nicely of Salem, and Erica Given of Hurricane.  

The YTS is conducted as a joint project of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the West Virginia Department of Education in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The YRBS is conduct by the Department of Education in collaboration with the CDC.  

The YTS is also administered at the middle school level, giving prevention advocates a means to track tobacco use trends in this age group since the survey’s inception in 2000.  

Current smoking in middle declined 9.9 percent from 18.1 percent in 2000 to 16.3 percent in 2002, and male smokeless tobacco use rates decreased from 14.9 percent to 12.9 percent during the same time period – a 13 percent decrease.  

Officials credit the decrease to school-based classroom prevention efforts, cessation programs in schools, and effective anti-smoking advertising campaigns at the national and state level.  

“West Virginia is turning the tide against youth tobacco use,” Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Paul Nusbaum said of the survey results. “The real payoff from our efforts will be years down the road, when the teenagers who didn’t become addicted to tobacco don’t become sick and die prematurely from cancer and heart disease because we helped them make a positive choice in their lives.”  

Nusbaum said he was pleased and excited by the survey results, which he said proves tobacco prevention programs work.  

According to State Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Stewart, "The West Virginia Board of Education and Department of Education is dedicated to providing healthy learning environments to all children. These results indicate that our efforts are beginning to pay off."  

Stewart underscored the importance the state school board places on tobacco prevention. Current state policy prohibits anyone – students, faculty, staff, or visitors – from using tobacco products at any time on school property. This policy meets and exceeds the guidelines set by CDC.  

The implementation and enforcement of this policy at the local level is paying dividends – the number of high school students who said they had smoked on school property dropped by 30.2 percent from 1999 (19.2 percent) to 2002 (13.4 percent).  

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