Recently I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the Carrie Diaries series, both of which take place in the eighties and nineties, and I noticed that a lot of the characters (like, practically everyone) smoke (which I grew up in that time period, so yeah). And it got me thinking. About the books I’ve been reading that are set in the here and now. About books published in the past few years. And umm…I don’t remember a lot of characters that actually smoke. So, with all the new legislation on smoking, banning it from restaurants and workplaces and the whatnot, and with various anti-tobacco campaigns and the extraordinary tax on cigarettes, I wondered…are teens still smoking? Is lighting up still a widespread practice among teens? And is this why I’m not seeing a lot of smoking in recent contemporary YA?
I asked our teen spies and analysts and the teens I teach every day, and the results were mixed. Some have lots of friends that smoke. Some don’t know many people that smoke cigarettes (weed seems to be pretty prevalent). So, I decided to hunt down more data.
Some smoking stats, courtesy of the American Lung Association:
In 2007, 20 percent of high school students reported smoking in the last 30 days, down 45 percent from 36.4 percent in 1997 when rates peaked after increasing throughout the first half of the 1990s
Among high school students in 2007, the most prevalent forms of tobacco used were cigarettes (20 percent), cigars (13.6 percent), and smokeless tobacco (includes chewing tobacco and snuff; 7.9 percent).
The decline in smoking among high school girls has slowed recently. Between 1999 and 2003, cigarette smoking prevalence among high school girls decreased by 37 percent. However, between 2003 and 2007, there was only a 15 percent decrease in prevalence of cigarette use.
In 2004, 11.7 percent of middle school students reported using any tobacco product; 8.4 percent used cigarettes. In 2004, 5.3 percent of middle school students were current cigar users, a decline of 30 percent since 1997.
In 2007, 49.7 percent of current smokers in high school had tried to quit smoking cigarettes. In 2002, 55.4 percent of middle school students who smoked seriously tried to quit.
And from the Surgeon General…
Almost one in four high school seniors is a current (in the past 30 days) cigarette smoker, compared with one in three young adults and one in five adults. About 1 in 10 high school senior males is a current smokeless tobacco user, and about 1 in 5 high school senior males is a current cigar smoker.
Among adolescents and young adults, cigarette smoking declined from the late 1990s, particularly after the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998. This decline has slowed in recent years, however.
Use of smokeless tobacco and cigars declined in the late 1990s, but the declines appear to have stalled in the last 5 years. The latest data show the use of smokeless tobacco is increasing among White high school males, and cigar smoking may be increasing among Black high school females.
And is smoking still a peer pressure thing? With high prices and laws against smoking in so many places, why do kids still smoke?
Peer pressure continues to prompt high school students to light up, new research suggests, because popular teens tend to smoke and they induce others to take up the habit in an effort to fit in and be liked. (Medline)
Advertising and promotional activities by tobacco companies have been shown to cause the onset and continuation of smoking among adolescents and young adults. (Surgeon General Report)
One study found that teens exposed to the greatest amount of smoking in movies were 2.6 times more likely to start smoking themselves compared with teens who watched the least amount of smoking in movies (American Lung Association)
So, yes. There’s been a decline, a decrease that seems to be tapering off. And I personally have noticed a decline in smoking. Is that the reality? Is this why I haven’t been seeing a lot of teens smoking in YA? Have you noticed a decline in smoking in books? Share your thoughts in the comments!