Massachusetts High School Students Report Decrease in Smoking- Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, May 5, 1998
Contact:Alan Sanfran

Massachusetts High School Students Report Decrease in Smoking

Malden - A survey of 4000 Massachusetts high school students conducted in the spring of 1997 and released today by the Massachusetts Department of Education shows a slight decline since 1995 in the rates of smoking, reversing an increase in the rates which had been reported from 1993 to 1995 and running counter to a national trend.

Rates of recent cigarette smoking among high school students, which had risen sharply from 30.2% in 1993 to 35.7% in 1995, declined slightly to 34.4% in 1997. Lifetime experimentation with cigarettes, which had risen from 67.8% of high school students reporting they had ever tried cigarettes in 1993 to 71.5% in 1995, also declined slightly to 69.1% in 1997. High school students reporting they smoke daily represent 14.5% of that group in 1997, up from 11.9% in 1993 but again showing a slight decline from the level of 14.6% in 1995.

In rates of recent, lifetime and daily smoking by high schoolers, the most substantial declines since 1995 have occurred among 9th grade students, white students, and male students. There have not been similar declines among girls and among older students. Also, there is an increase in recent smoking rates reported by African-American high school students, from 21% in 1995 to 24.6% in 1997, although because of the size of the sample this increase is not statistically significant. The rate of recent smoking among African-American students is about two-thirds the rate for white students.

The survey also notes a sharp decline in smokeless tobacco use among all high school students, continuing a four year downward trend.

Massachusetts figures for smoking among high schoolers have dipped below national rates reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April. The national rate of cigarette experimentation was 70.2% in 1997, compared to Massachusetts' rate of 69.1%; recent (nationally called "current") tobacco use among US high school students was 36.4% in 1997, compared to the Massachusetts rate of 34.4%.

Overall, in 1997, one in seven Massachusetts high school students reported that they smoke every day; one in three reported that they had smoked at least once in the month prior to being surveyed by the state; seven in ten reported they had tried cigarettes during their lifetime; and six percent used smokeless tobacco recently.

Other results of the survey show that high school students who try to buy cigarettes are more likely to be asked for proof of age at a store (61% in 1997 versus 49% in 1995). Fewer students therefore reported that they illegally are able to buy cigarettes in a store (33% in 1997 versus 49% in 1995).

Also, gender data in the survey clearly suggests a divergence in the trends among female and male students. For example, among 10th graders, the rates for cigarette experimentation have risen steadily from 1993 to 1997 for girls (from 58% who reported having tried cigarettes in 1993 to 76% in 1997), while the rate for 10th grade boys dropped from 73% in 1995 to 66% last year.

The survey results about tobacco use are part of the state's Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered every two years on a voluntary and random basis among high school students. The tobacco data and analysis are complete, and the remainder of the survey concerning other risk behaviors including violence, sexual activity and nutrition, will be available within a month. The survey is conducted in a randomized samples of schools so that the results are valid for statewide analysis; no individual school districts, schools or students are identified in the release of the results.

Since 1993, the state excise tax on tobacco has generated funds for statewide anti-smoking programs. Most of the funds are administered by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for clinics and advertising campaigns. The Department of Education distributes approximately $25 per pupil, or $25 million a year, through Health Protection funds which support comprehensive health education programs in public schools, adult learning centers, and in other sites. While the referendum passed by Massachusetts voters in 1992 directed the Department of Education to distribute funds for comprehensive health programs, the terms of the grant were tightened by former Commissioner of Education Robert Antonucci in 1996 to ensure that tobacco prevention education would be the number one priority for the use of these funds.

Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Frank W. Haydu III noted, "The number of young people smoking is unacceptable. However, the reversal in Massachusetts of a recent upward trend needs to be analyzed and tracked over time. The news about 9th graders is especially noteworthy because if we can catch students early, we can perhaps make a difference in their lifelong habits.We need to stay committed for the long term to the state's comprehensive health education grants and strengthening the delivery by teachers of strong instruction in risk behaviors."

"Parents and guardians have the first responsibility for their children's education and behaviors. They need to take this role seriously. I would urge special attention to the data about the divergence in the trend lines for boys and girls," Haydu added.

Commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Howard Koh, noted "We're holding the line for our youth. We're countering national trends, but it's still going to take a lot of work to keep the next generation from becoming addicted. We are proud to be partners with the Department of Education in working to fight tobacco use and protect the health of our children."

The text of the tobacco summary report is available on the Department website at

Last Updated: May 5, 1998

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