CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Teen smoking has dropped dramatically in West Virginia since 2000, and public health officials say a new report speaks volumes about prevention programs.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources Division of Tobacco Prevention, in releasing results of the 2013 West Virginia youth tobacco survey Monday, claimed high school students who have never used any form of tobacco has increased by 124 percent since 2000. Back then, only 20.6 percent said they had never used tobacco, but this year the number of non-users has risen to 46.1 percent.
“A 124-percent improvement is fantastic,” Dr. Letitia Tierney, state health commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health, told MetroNews. “It means the message is getting out there and kids are listening.”
The survey also shows improvement in high school students deciding against smoking. In 2000, only about 26 percent of all high school students in West Virginia said they had never tried a cigarette; now that number is up to 53 percent.
Tierney credited the improved numbers to the statewide tobacco prevention program, called “Raze,” which features teens talking to teens about smoking.
“They encourage children to rebel against smoking and they call their groups crews–so they are speaking the teens lingo which I think helps engage them,” Tierney said.
The survey shows 18.6 percent of West Virginia high school students are smokers. Tierney said that number was 38.5 percent in 2000. She said members of the younger generation have been hearing about the danger of nicotine all their lives, something many of their parents did not hear.
“For the adults who have been smoking–when they started smoking it was the cool thing to do and nobody knew the health issues. But for our teens now those messages have been out there and think it’s really starting to take hold,” Tierney said. “These are our future parents and they are going to raise their children in smoke-free homes.”
Anti-smoking campaigns that further expose the dangers of smoking must remain vigilant, Tierney said
“We must remember that nicotine is a drug and it is addictive. We must empower our young people with information about the dangers of tobacco before they become addicted,” she said. “Nicotine puts young people at risk for life-long, serious health consequences.”