Myers says teens smoking less

November 30, 1999|By TIFFANY ARNOLD


High school principals used to troll through bathrooms in search of clandestine puffs of smoke, the tale-tale sign of a covert smoker.

Robert "Bo" Myers, a former principal, said he's thankful things have changed.

"Smoking has become so minor than what it used to be that it's almost a non-issue for principals anymore," said Myers, the executive director of secondary school administration for Washington County Public Schools.

Researchers credit decades-long anti-smoking campaigns for reducing the number of teen smokers. In an effort to get even more smokers to quit, The Smoke Free Society has declared today the "Great American Smokeout."


Nationally, cigarette use among high school students dropped from 34.8 percent in 1995 to 21.9 percent in 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statistics are similar for the state and county, according to a study the Maryland Department of Education (MDE) released in October.

Even though fewer teens are choosing to smoke, fewer teen smokers are choosing to quit.

The federal Division of Adolescent Health and School Services, part of the CDC, surveys thousands of teenagers every two years in order to monitor what health officials consider to be risky behavior. In 2001, 57 percent of teens surveyed said they had tried to quit smoking in the last year. That number was only 53 percent in 2003, according to the survey.

In Maryland, students are choosing to smoke despite knowing the health risks, according to the 2004 MDE study. The MDE surveyed 10,000 sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students throughout the state, including 391 from Washington County.

According to the MDE, 85 percent of seniors in the county said they knew tobacco was a proven cause of cancer. But more than a third of them said they had smoked cigarettes.

Also, Washington County students are more likely to smoke than other students in the state, according to the survey.

In Washington County, 26 percent of 12th-graders said they smoked in the last month, according to the survey. The state average was 19.8 percent. For eighth-graders, 7.6 percent of Washington County students said they smoked in the last month. The state average was 5.9 percent.

Sixth-graders in Washington County were the only students who fell below the statewide average for students in their age group.

Rod MacRae, spokesman for the Washington County Health Department, said the county's higher poverty rate and the remarkably low poverty rates in other counties skewed Washington County's averages, making them seem higher.

The health department targets teens through educational campaigns, though its "Stop Smoking for Life" program, set up much like Alcoholics Anonymous, is limited to adults, said Shawn Stoner, who works for the health department's cigarette restitution fund program.

Washington County Public Schools offers counseling programs for students who want to quit, Myers said.

"I believe those programs have been quite successful," Myers said.

Myers said when he was a principal, things were so bad that administrators had to negotiate which bathrooms they'd bust in a given day.

"Now, when I inspect schools, you really don't see too much of that anymore."

Tips for quitting

Today is the Smoke Free Society's "Great American Smokeout." While the group hopes to get millions of smokers to quit today for the day, they're hoping some of those temporary quitters will put down cigarettes for good.

Dr. Sarah Buchanan of Williamsport Family Practice offered a few tips for people who want to stop smoking:

  • Going "cold turkey" is the best way to quit.

    Nicotine patches and gums are good when used with a cessation program, like Washington County Health Department's "Stop Smoking for Life" program, Buchanan said.

    Cutting down the number of cigarettes is the least-effective method, she said.

  • Change your habits.

    "If you are used to smoking after lunch, do something else, like taking a walk. Create a new habit instead of smoking," Buchanan said.

  • Quit while you're still young.

    "It's easier for someone to quit, say, if they only smoked through college versus if they've been smoking for the past 10 years," Buchanan said.

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