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Reductions in teen smoking.

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One of the most fascinating and unexplained changes in smoking habits that has taken place in the United States was the dramatic reduction of cigarette smoking among African American youth since the 1970s. The “Monitoring the Future” study has documented clearly that in 1975, smoking prevalence was very similar across ethnic/racial groups of teenagers, with 38% of white teens smoking, 37% of African American teens smoking and 36% of Latino youth smoking cigarettes in 1977. However, by 1985, smoking prevalence had halved among African American teens (18%) but remained high in whites (31%) and Latino youth (26%). By 1992 the differences had become even more marked, with only 9% of African American youth smoking, compared with 32% of white youth and 25% of Latino youth. Although smoking declined in young people of all backgrounds since 1998, these ethnic/racial differences largely persist. So the proportion of African American teens who smoke was cut by more than three quarters over 15 years, and yet no-one appears to know how it happened. Suggestions have ranged from increased price-responsiveness among African American teens (during a period involving increases in price of cigarettes), the possibility that African American youth could be using other substances instead. However, this last idea is based more on stereotypes than data: illegal drug use has also fallen in African American youth over the same time frame, and in 2006 a smaller proportion of African American high school seniors had used an illicit substance in the past year, as compared with whites or Latinos.

So this rather dramatic reduction in smoking by African American youth occurred prior to the major funded campaigns that followed the master Settlement Agreement in 1998, and is largely unexplained. If you think you have an explanation, please tell me!
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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