“We’ve had significant decreases in middle school students over the last 12 years,” said Roy Hart, the director of the Office of Tobacco Control at the Mississippi State Department of Health. “Among high school students, it’s very similar to the prevalence of (tobacco use) among adults.”
The counter marketing and school programs have made a big difference, especially for the middle school students, Hart said. High school smoking rates seem to have benefited from increased cigarette taxes and the spread of smoke-free ordinances.
But there’s still threats. The use of tiny cigars and cigarillos seems to be increasing, Hart said. The cigars aren’t subject to the same taxes as cigarettes, and often have flavors added, which make them more attractive to younger smokers.
Smokeless tobacco hasn’t declined nearly as much as smoking among teens, and is showing some signs of rebounding, especially among high school students. Some of the newer products are dissolvable, so they don’t require spitting, Hart said.
“They’re easier to use in a covert manner,” Hart said.
Even worse, there’s a perception that smokeless products are less dangerous, which just isn’t true, Hart said.
“They’re just as dangerous to the individual with the same cancer risks and other health risks,” Hart said.
Other states have seen middle school tobacco use rates creep back up, but Mississippi’s seem to be holding strong. Hart attributes that to strong elementary school programs like RAT – Reject All Tobacco.
“If you start early, it has a profound impact on kids’ lifestyles and the choices they make.”