A newly released statewide “Youth Tobacco Survey” suggests a continued downward trend of students smoking cigarettes, but officials say results show a rise in those opting for other tobacco products that may contribute toward nicotine addiction.
The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services survey shows the smoking prevalence for Granite State high school students has significantly declined from 25.3 percent in 2001 to 16 percent in 2009.
The findings come from a DHHS Division of Public Health Services Tobacco Prevention & Control Program study that took place between 2007-2009 in multiple middle and high schools across the state.
“We are making progress and seeing a reduction in the use of some tobacco products, such as cigarettes,” said Dr. José Montero, Director of Public Health at DHHS.
DHHS officials said they have no results from the survey specific to certain schools, but confirmed that students from Spaulding High School, Somersworth High School, Oyster River High School and Portsmouth High School all took part in the survey.
Montero said the trend away from cigarette use is important in helping the state’s population avoid cancer and other chronic diseases associated with smoking, but the results show more work needs to be done to educate young people about the dangers of any tobacco use.
“Still there are concerns that young people may be increasing their use of other tobacco products such as smokeless tobacco, which opens the door to nicotine addiction and future smoking,” Montero said.
The Youth Tobacco Survey is given to students in Grades 6-12 and is funded by a cooperative grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report is conducted every two years with its 74 questions covering the prevalence of use and exposure to things like cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, tobacco pipes and other forms of tobacco.
The survey also encompasses questions relating to minors ability to purchase tobacco, their exposure to secondhand smoke and how young people are impacted by media messages promoting and opposing tobacco usage.
The recent survey showed there is no significant difference in the smoking prevalence between the genders with 15.8 percent of female high school students reporting they smoke compared to 16.5 percent of male students.
Results showed high school males were more likely than high school females to smoke other tobacco products, such as cigars, tobacco in a pipe, bids (thin cigarettes made of tobacco flake wrapped in a leaf and secured with a colored thread on both ends), or kreteks — cigarettes made with a blend of tobacco, cloves, and other flavors), or to use chewing tobacco.
Most high school current smokers obtained cigarettes by giving someone else money to buy cigarettes or by “bumming” them.
Twelve percent of high school current smokers reported purchasing their own cigarettes from a store or vending machine.
Forty percent of current high school smokers said that they would like to quit, 52 percent said that they tried to quit, and 39 percent of former smokers said that they have remained tobacco free.
A high number of high school students taking the survey — 84.5 percent — reported seeing images of tobacco used by actors on television or in the movies with 25.5 percent seeing tobacco being used by athletes on television or in the movies.
The proportion of high school students who have been exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke by being in a room or in a car with a smoker declined significantly from 72 percent in 2001 to 54.2 percent in 2009 — a result officials say indicates changing attitudes and an increasing number of smoke-free homes in New Hampshire.
The Youth Tobacco Survey is one of the topics DHHS is focusing on this week as part of National Public Health Week.
By Geoff Cunningham Jr., Fosters