(Even more) casual teenage smokers at risk

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Pack-a-day smokers are increasingly rare in the average U.S. high school; however, a study just published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found that teenagers are more likely to be casual, or social, smokers. Using data from a large national survey of high school students, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that, while heavy smoking among teenagers has dropped from 18 percent to below 8 percent between 1991 and 2009, those who smoke occasionally now comprise close to 80 percent of the teenage population a significant increase.

The CDC s Dr. Terry Pechachek, a co-author of the study, describes these rates as a broad, national phenomenon, one that he attributes to higher costs of cigarettes, increasing public smoke-free policies, and a greater public awareness of the risks of heavy smoking. Yet Dr. Pechachek does not find much that s positive about the prevalence of light smokers, as opposed to heavy smokers, in the teenage population. Light and intermittent smoking still has significant health risks, he points out.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross strongly agrees with Dr. Pechachek, and he also notes that young people who begin smoking casually are at high risk of becoming regular, addicted smokers. The question is, of course, how to persuade the teenage population that even occasional smoking has real, long-term risks.