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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Determining Teen Smoking Trends is Difficult

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that adult smoking rates are down. What about teenage smoking rates? A new study has found that determining teen smoking trends is difficult; many public health agencies rely too heavily on reports of monthly cigarette use, a broad statistic that is challenging to draw from conclusions about current habits and historical changes in behavior.

The study, "Softening of monthly cigarette use in youth and the need to harden measures of surveillance," calls for a deeper analysis of available data, allowing researchers to paint a more complete and accurate picture of teen smoking trends. "We need information on smoking intensity to assess health risk," says study co-author Lynn Kozlowski, PhD, a professor in University at Buffalo's Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, "because heavy smoking causes more disease and death than light smoking. Also, non-daily smokers often represent lower-level exposure to carcinogens and can be more likely to quit."

The current method used for determining teen cigarette use is a survey given to high school seniors which asks a question about smoking behavior over the past 30 days. Despite the fact the response to that question indicates a 29 percent drop in monthly smoking between 1975 and 2013, the researchers who conducted the study at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions (SPHHP) calls this method a "crude and changing indicator" of smoking frequency and intensity. The researchers argue that the figure does not describe: how many times the respondent smoked that month, how many cigarettes were smoked each time, the use of e-cigarettes, etc.

Kozlowski and Gary Giovino, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, analyzed results from the 1973 to 2013 Monitoring the Future Project, an ongoing study by University of Michigan researchers. The study compiles data on the behaviors, attitudes and values of young Americans from high school through college and young adulthood. Kozlowski and Giovino hoped to determine how changes in monthly smoking relate to changes in daily smoking and heavy smoking in high school seniors over the past 35 years.

"Our findings, grounded in a deeper analysis of the data, represent good news," Kozlowski says, "and have important implications for tobacco research and monitoring related trends.

"We found a softening -- a lessening of intensity -- rather than hardening of current smoking, which has important implications for tobacco surveillance and research. This is particularly true in relation to the increased likelihood of quitting smoking, health effects of cigarette smoking, and similar and interacting issues related to measuring the use of all tobacco and nicotine products."

The study was published in Preventive Medicine Reports.

Based on materials from University at Buffalo.

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