Teens and Smoking

Cathy Arnst

There's a new report out of New York City with some good and bad news on teen smoking. According to the New York Times,

Smoking among New York City teenagers has shown a startling decline over the last four years, with a survey of smoking habits finding that just 11 percent of public high school students now smoke

The bad news? Smoking rates were highest among white students (29 percent), students on Staten Island (23 percent) and girls (12 percent). Among white girls, 35 percent said they smoked, compared with 24 percent of white boys.

It seems that the steep price of cigarettes--New York City has among the highest cigarette taxes in the nation--keeps low income students from smoking, and blacks and latinos overall have rejected cancer sticks. But high income girls are still smoking with a vengeance--as I notice every time I walk by a tony private school in my neighborhood. It's particularly sad that this trend is tied into body image. I learned in a I did a few years ago for BusinessWeek that the main reason girls give for smoking is to keep their weight down.

Studies by the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future project found that 14-year-old girls are twice as likely to try smoking as boys, primarily because of concerns about weight. Numerous surveys have found that some 30% of teenage girls and adult women cite weight control as the main reason they smoke, far greater than any other justification. "The relationship between concerns about weight and smoking is dramatic," says Dr. Margaret R. Rukstalis, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania, who specializes in addictive behaviors.

Smoking is particularly addictive for young girls--they can get hooked on nicotine after just one cigarette. So talk to your daughters, and sons for that matter, about the dangers of smoking, before they start. Somehow we have to get the message across to our kids that smoking is not cool. Maybe take them to visit a cancer ward?

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