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Published: Tuesday, 7/6/2004

Fewer teens lighting up

FINALLY, the struggle against smoking is beginning to have an effect where it is needed most: among teenagers. A study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says anti-smoking campaigns and higher cigarette taxes are beginning to turn teens away from taking up the nasty habit.

After decades of trying without much success to convince young people that smoking is bad, this is progress. The study says that for the first time in two decades, the percentage of high school students who smoke is lower than the percentage of adults smokers. In 1997 more than 36 percent of teenagers smoked. Last year, almost 22 percent of the teens surveyed said they smoked. That's the lowest percentage since the CDC began keeping records in 1975.

There are multiple reasons for this success. Well-packaged anti-smoking TV ads and school campaigns, partly supported by the $206 billion tobacco settlement, are successfully convincing teens to not begin smoking and persuading some teenage smokers to cut back or quit. Economics is also a factor: The price of a pack of cigarettes went up 90 percent between 1997 and 2003.

At the same time, too many messages are still sent that smoking is cool, and other studies indicate that the decline in teen smoking is slowing. Cigarette makers are spending more on tobacco ads, smoking is depicted glamorously in movies, and states strapped for cash are diverting settlement funds intended for prevention efforts.

Still, we'll take our glimmer of good news where we can find it. The public's health, now and in the future, depends on persuading non-smokers to stay that way.

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