Teen smokers may have tough time quitting

A smoker is seen in Shanghai, March 3, 2009. REUTERS/Aly Song

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - High school students who smoke cigarettes and try to quit often fail, health officials warn.

“Despite their relatively short smoking histories, many adolescents who smoke are nicotine dependent, and such dependence can lead to daily smoking,” investigators with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) write in the agency’s weekly bulletin on illnesses and deaths.

The new findings come from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, an initiative of the CDC that measures the rate of health risk behaviors among high school students through biennial national, state and local surveys.

Among a representative sample of 14,041 U.S. high school students surveyed in 2007, the CDC found that 60.9 percent of students who ever smoked cigarettes daily tried to quit smoking cigarettes; however, among those who tried to quit, only 12.2 percent were successful.

While the rate of success in kicking the habit did not vary by sex or race, age was a factor. More students in 9th grade were successful at quitting (22.9 percent) than in 10th grade (10.7 percent), 11th grade (8.8 percent) and 12th grade (10.0 percent).

The higher success rate among 9th grade students compared to older students might be due to lower levels of dependency from smoking fewer cigarettes per day or having smoked for shorter periods, the article notes.

“These data suggest the importance of targeting young smokers with cessation counseling while their likelihood of success in quitting is greatest,” the authors point out.

“Furthermore,” they add, “current best practices recommend that, to prevent youths from starting to smoke, states establish and sustain comprehensive tobacco control programs that increase excise taxes, promote smoke-free air policies, and conduct media campaigns in conjunction with other community-based interventions, such as tobacco-use prevention programs in schools that include school policy and education components.”

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 1, 2009.