Ten years ago, government health experts set a goal to reduce teen smoking to 16 percent by the year 2010. This goal was part of the Healthy People 2010 initiative, the aim of which was to increase quality and years of life for Americans and eliminate health disparities.
Well, the report card is in. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its biannual survey of more than 10,000 high school students, showing 19.5 percent of them are smokers.
In 1995, high school smoking rates hovered around 34.8 percent. After massive anti-smoking campaigns (funded primarily by the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-tobacco group created in the 1998 master settlement agreement between states and the tobacco industry), rates dipped to 21.9 percent in 2003, but from there the progress has stalled.
With about 4 million students graduating from high school each year, the difference between the current rate and the Healthy People 2010 goal set by the government 10 years ago amounts to an additional 140,000 student smokers and 46,000 premature deaths for each high school class nationally.
Some experts say it's time to ramp up anti-smoking advertising to counter the tobacco industry’s $12 billion marketing campaign. Unfortunately, donations to anti-tobacco campaigns seem to be plummeting, as Americans shift their attention to other public health issues like childhood obesity.
I hate to think of these two issues as competing, because they are both so critical to the overall health of kids. And let's face it, the success at one program will increase the likelihood that the other program will have success as well. So why don't they join forces? Maybe that way they will be have a shot of reaching their goals for Healthy People 2020.