ATLANTA The once-rapid decline in tobacco use among young people has slowed as cash-strapped states slash funding for anti-smoking campaigns, a federal study released on Thursday showed.
From 2009 to 2011, the percentage of high school students using tobacco dropped only slightly, to 23.2 percent from 23.9 percent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
The decline was greater among middle school students, dropping to 7.1 percent from 8.2 percent, the CDC said.
Neither reduction was statistically significant, Dr Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's office on Smoking and Health, told Reuters.
The report analyzed survey results from 18,866 students. Most U.S. middle school and high school students are ages 11 to 18.
Youth tobacco use saw double-digit drops starting in the late 1990s as states ramped up anti-smoking campaigns that were aided by funds obtained in settlements of lawsuits against tobacco companies. From 1998 to 2003, young people's tobacco use dropped 40 percent, the CDC said.
But with states struggling with the economic downturn, funding for anti-tobacco campaigns has been drastically reduced or eliminated. Those cuts could explain why "current declines are occurring much more slowly," the CDC said in a statement.
"Fully funding and implementing comprehensive tobacco-control programs might have further impact on preventing and reducing tobacco use among youths," the agency said.
Anti-smoking campaigns were a "relatively easy target" for state budget cuts, McAfee said.
He called cuts to anti-tobacco programs "penny wise and pound foolish," since in the long term, states save money on healthcare costs by reducing tobacco use.
Ken Garcia, a spokesman for tobacco company Altria Group Inc, said states had "billions upon billions" in revenue from tobacco but chose to use much of it for purposes other than preventing youth tobacco use.
States have used tobacco-settlement money to fill holes elsewhere in their budgets.
Despite a slight drop in cigarette smoking by students in high school, there was a sharp increase in the percentage of black students who smoked cigars, to 11.1 percent from 7.1 percent.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)