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NC youth smoking rates hit all-time low

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The percentage of teens in North Carolina who smoke cigarettes reached a new low in 2011, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced May 17.

The 2011 NC Youth Tobacco Survey finds that the high school smoking rate lowered to 15.5 percent from 16.7 percent in 2009, and the middle school smoking rate dropped to 4.2 percent from 4.3 percent in 2009.

“These are all-time lows for each group,” a DHHS statement said.

The Youth Tobacco Survey further delineates results by region. Youth smoking rates for North Carolina’s western region are higher than the state average, with the high school rate at 18.5 percent and the middle school rate at 5.6 percent in 2011, according to Ann Staples, director of public education and communication for the N.C. Division of Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch.

The high school smoking rate in Western North Carolina is down from 18.9 percent in the 2009 survey, while the middle school rate is up from 5.1 percent in 2009.

Teen cigarette smoking rates have fallen steadily in North Carolina since 2003, according to DHHS.
Since 2003, middle school smoking dropped by 55 percent from 9.3 percent to 4.2 percent, and high school smoking decreased by 43 percent from 27.3 percent to 15.5 percent, according to the department.

DHHS cited the TRU (Tobacco. Reality. Unfiltered.) program as influential in the consistent drop of youth smoking rates. The prevention initiative targets youth through media campaigns and school and community programs.

The TRU Program was originally funded by the Health and Wellness Trust Fund with funds from the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. Last year, the N.C. General Assembly voted to abolish the fund, moving one remaining year of nonrecurring funding for tobacco prevention programs to DHHS for fiscal year 2011-12, which ends June 30.

Dana Holden is the teen tobacco use prevention coordinator for Watauga County Schools.

“We’ve been really pleased at Watauga High School. We’ve seen a real drop-off of the number of students who have been caught with tobacco in school,” Holden said.

The initiatives implemented by the teen tobacco use prevention program in Watauga County Schools include a summer youth advocacy training program, tobacco prevention strategy training for teachers and staff, media literacy and tobacco advertising education, letter writing campaigns and education for tobacco retailers.

“Sadly, our teen tobacco prevention program is being cut,” Holden said.

Gov. Bev Perdue has recommended $10 million in her proposed 2012-13 budget to begin restoring support for tobacco prevention initiatives.

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