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BALTIMORE -- Smoking among Maryland teenagers appears to be declining at a significantly faster rate than the rest of the United States, leading health advocates to declare the state's two recent tobacco tax increases and anti-tobacco programs a success.
A survey released by the Maryland State Department of Education last week shows steep declines between 1994 and 2002 in the percentages of youths in several age groups who smoke, the Baltimore Sun reports. The decline was particularly sharp during the past two years.
"Maryland developed a pretty strong tobacco program compared with almost any other state," said Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends for the American Cancer Society.
Peter Fisher, director of state programs for the national Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said Maryland also has made progress by adopting a law in 2000 restricting minors' access to tobacco vending machines.
In two age groups -- eighth and 10th grades -- the rates of smoking have been cut by more than one-half since 1994.
Maryland has seen a 68-percent decline in smoking by eighth-graders over the past eight years, compared with a 42-percent drop found in a national survey during the same period. Among 10th-graders in Maryland, smoking dropped 54 percent compared with 30 percent nationwide.
Some Maryland activists say the declines achieved in the state are largely attributable to the 1999 and 2002 tobacco tax increases, which took the state's cigarette tax to $1 a pack. Eric Gally, who lobbies in Annapolis for several anti-smoking groups, told the Sun that tobacco foes plan to push for an additional 50-cent increase.
Making cigarettes more expensive, advocates say, is especially effective in discouraging smoking among younger teens who have less disposable income.
Among older students, the study also found:
* Eighth-grade smoking dropped from 20.8 percent to 6.6 percent.
* Among 10th-graders, smoking went from 26.7 percent to 12.7 percent.
* Twelfth-graders' smoking went from 29.9 percent to 19.8 percent, with most of the decline coming in the last year.