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Cigarette smoking among Kentucky high school students drops significantly

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Kentucky Press News Service

Kentucky dropped to sixth place among surveyed states in 2013 for high school cigarette use, a significant improvement from the state’s first place ranking in 2011, according to a recently released Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System report.

Survey results show that 17.9 percent of Kentucky high school students report current cigarette smoking, down from 24.1 percent in 2011. Nationwide, the rate is 15.7 percent. The marked drop means Kentucky has met its Healthy Kentuckians 2020 goal of reducing youth smoking to 19 percent, and is beginning to creep toward its kyhealthnow goal of reducing Kentucky’s smoking rate by 10 percent in the next five years.

In 1997, when the CDC first started tracking student smoking, the rate was 47 percent.

“When I announced our ambitious goals for kyhealthnow in February of this year, smoking was one of the most obvious areas we needed to address,” Gov. Steve Beshear said in a statement. “I am pleased to see teen smoking trending downward, but I remain committed to further reducing cigarette use among our youth.”

Reducing smoking among young people is a key component of kyhealthnow, which includes priorities for comprehensive smoke-free policies and 100 percent tobacco-free schools.

According to information collected by the Department for Public Health, 33 of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts are currently 100 percent tobacco-free.

With nearly nine out of 10 smokers starting by age 18, preventing the initiation of smoking among youth is a key element in reducing the overall burden of tobacco use in Kentucky.

Youth can develop cardiovascular disease, smaller lungs that don’t function normally, wheezing that can lead to asthma and eventually cellular damage that can lead to cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes and a host of other diseases, according to a news release.

“While we’re pleased to see a reduction in youth smoking, it’s important to note that we still have too many youth who smoke and others who are exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke,” Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, commissioner for DPH and vice chair of kyhealthnow, said in the release.

“The health consequences of smoking are seen throughout many of the diseases impacting Kentuckians. Smoking cessation could significantly reduce the rates of cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases which are linked to tobacco use.”

The youth survey is conducted in Kentucky every other year, on odd-numbered years. The 2013 YRBSS report is available at www.cdc.gov/yrbs.

Adults and youth as young as 15 can access the quit coaching services provided through 1-800-QuitNow (1-800-784-8669), or www.QuitNowKentucky.org. The service is free.