No progress reducing teen use of smokeless tobacco

May 21, 2013

In spite of reductions in cigarette smoking, adolescents are as likely to use chewing tobacco and snuff today as they were at the turn of the century.

 

In spite of reductions in cigarette smoking, adolescents are as likely to use chewing tobacco and snuff today as they were at the turn of the century, a national survey shows. In fact, use has actually increased slightly among those aged 15 to 17 years.

 A recent study analyzed the US National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), a repeated biennial national cross-sectional survey that analyzes smokeless tobacco use among middle-school and high-school students. The last survey, conducted in 2000, included nearly 36,000 students at 324 middle schools and high schools and calculated the prevalence of self-reported use of snuff, chew, or dipping tobacco within the past 30 days to be 5.3%. The 2011 survey, which included nearly 19,000 students at 178 middle schools and high schools, calculated a prevalence of 5.2%.

Furthermore, although use decreased over that time period by almost 5% per year in children aged 9 to 11 years and by 3.4% per year in 12- to 14-year-olds, prevalence of use actually rose 0.9% per year among 15- to 17-year-olds.

Smokeless tobacco use had been on the decline through the late 1980s and 1990s similar to use of other tobacco products, but that was before the increased availability of flavored products that may have greater appeal to youngsters. Another factor may be that the government's strong-armed approach to cigarettes- tax increases, stronger warning labels, and institution of age verification-didn't transfer to smokeless tobacco products. Perhaps most importantly is that such products are relatively cheap compared with cigarettes.

Experts argue that if as a country we do not treat all tobacco products equally, young people will simply switch from one form to another, which will, in turn, simply shift incidences of various forms of cancer and do nothing to reduce overall rates of disease associated with these products.