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    Teen Smoking Dropping

    Retailers doing their part nationwide to keep cigarettes away from minors.


    CHICAGO -- Fewer merchants in suburban Cook County are willing to sell cigarettes to minors, according to an annual survey by the county Public Health Department. Additionally, a national survey has found sharp drops in smoking rates among teens.

    Each year, volunteers ages 15 to 17 try to buy tobacco in suburban Cook County. Of the 343 stores tested in 2001, 20.4 percent offered to sell tobacco. By comparison, the combined rate for 1996-2000 was 27.2 percent, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

    The survey found teenage cashiers are more likely than adult cashiers to sell to minors, and male cashiers are almost twice as likely as female cashiers to sell.

    In southern suburbs, 27.5 percent of merchants were willing to sell to minors. The rates were 22.1 percent in western suburbs, 18.2 percent in northern suburbs and 2.6 percent in unincorporated Cook County, where merchants who sell to minors risk fines and loss of tobacco licenses.

    Nationwide, it's also getting harder for minors to buy cigarettes. The proportion of eighth- graders who said it would be "fairly easy" or "very easy" to get cigarettes fell to 68 percent in 2001, from 77 percent in 1996, according to the University of Michigan's annual teen smoking survey.

    The survey found that teen smoking rates have been dropping since peaking in 1996 and 1997. The smoking rate among eighth-graders fell to 12 percent in 2001, from 21 percent in 1996. Among 10th-graders, the rate fell to 21 percent in 2001, from 30 percent in 1996. Among 12th-graders, the rate fell to 30 percent in 2001, from 37 percent in 1997.

    The researchers define "smoking" as smoking at least one cigarette during the last 30 days. There were similar declines among "daily smokers," defined as teens who smoke at least one cigarette a day.

    "These important declines in teen smoking did not just happen by chance," said study director Lloyd Johnston. "A lot of individuals and organizations have been making concerted efforts to bring down the unacceptably high rates of smoking among our youth."

    The settlement between tobacco companies and most states, including Illinois and Michigan, ended billboard advertising and the Joe Camel ad campaign. The settlement also funded anti-tobacco ads. Some states raised cigarette taxes, and the industry raised prices to pay for the settlement. Studies have shown that teens smoke less when prices go up, the report said.

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