Underage cigarette smoking in Southwest Colorado appears high compared with the national trend, which shows that smoking by middle- and high-school students declined significantly from 2002-03 to 2012-13.
Cigarette smoking by 12- to 17-year-olds nationally fell from 12.57 percent in 2002-03 to 6.08 percent in 2012-13, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said in a report released Monday.
The decline was based on replies from students ages 12 to 17 who were asked if they had smoked at least one cigarette in the past month.
Among Colorado youths, 13.74 percent said they had smoked within the previous month in 2002-03 compared to 6.29 percent in 2012-13, the report said.
The only state that didn’t show a statistically significant decline in past-month smoking was Utah, where the decline went from 6.57 to 5.4 percent.
But in Southwest Colorado, data from the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey showed that 14.2 percent of high school students in Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan and Dolores counties had smoked at least one cigarette in the previous 30 days.
In middle schools in the same counties, 3.9 percent had used cigarettes at least once in the previous month.
When cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff and dip were added to the list, 23 percent of high-school students in Southwest Colorado had indulged at least once. The number of middle-school students who had tried chewing tobacco, snuff, dip or cigars reached 7.4 percent.
E-cigarettes also proved a temptation to high-school students in the five-county region. Twenty-one percent of high-school students have tried e-cigarettes. No statistics were given for middle-school students.
The focus of anti-smoking programs at San Juan Basin Health Department is prevention, said spokeswoman Flannery O’Neil.
“A lot of our effort is working with providers on cessation programs,” she said. “We want to keep kids from starting to smoke.”
She said health workers are keeping their eye on e-cigarettes because their use seems to be gaining a foothold.
“States have been at the center of efforts to reduce adolescent smoking through cigarette taxation, enactment of laws that restrict smoking in public places, enforcement of laws that prohibit the sale and distribution of tobacco products to adolescents and the funding of smoking-prevention and cessation programs,” the SAMHSA report says.
Adolescents’ perception of the risk of smoking one or more packs of cigarettes a day has increased as well – the perception of risk being inversely proportional to use. That is, use is lower among those who perceive a high risk.
The perception of risk from smoking at least one pack of cigarettes a day increased nationally from 63.67 to 64.96 percent. In Colorado, the percentage increased from 63.77 to 66.56 percent.
Past-month cigarette use among adolescents in Alaska declined over 10 years – from 13.25 to 6.44 percent. But paradoxically, the perception of the danger of smoking also declined – from 66.56 to 59.06 percent. Alaska was the only state in which the anomaly was seen.
“Youth perception of risk has not changed significantly,” the SAMHSA report said. “Highlighting the prevalence of cigarette use and attitudes as well as monitoring changes may help federal, state and local policymakers continue to allocate resources to combat adolescent smoking, including efforts to reduce the availability of tobacco products to young people, raise awareness about smoking and improve prevention efforts.”