Missouri youths ignore tobacco addiction warnings

Friday, September 26, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Nearly all youths know tobacco is addictive, yet many try it anyway and believe they can quit if they want to, according to a newly released survey of Missouri middle and high school students.

The state Department of Health and Senior Services is promoting the study as the first to look at the influences and beliefs about tobacco, not just its use, by Missouri youths.

Among other things, the survey released Thursday found that youths who smoke are much more likely than nonsmokers to think it makes them look cool, to wear clothing promoting tobacco companies and to hang around other people who smoke.

The survey was conducted last February and March in randomly selected public middle and high schools. At the chosen schools, a limited number of classes were randomly selected to take the written survey. The results include responses from 1,501 middle school students and 1,438 high school students.

Nearly all students surveyed believed people could become addicted to tobacco just like with cocaine or heroin, and nearly all said people risk harming themselves by smoking one-to-five cigarettes a day.

Yet 66 percent of high school students and 44 percent of middle school students said they had used some form of tobacco product during their lives; 31 percent of high school students and 14 percent of middle school students said they had used tobacco within the past month.

Of those currently smoking cigarettes, 71 percent of high school students and 62 percent of middle school students thought they would be able to quit if they wanted to do so.

"It appears as if youths know that tobacco is very addictive. However, they're continuing to experiment with it," said Janet Wilson, chief of the health department's Health Promotion Unit, "and even though they know that it's addictive, they think they can quit. So there's some reasoning that is of concern."

Wilson said the survey also shows that youths' attitudes about tobacco appear to be affected by advertising and the influences around them.

For example, youths who smoke cigarettes were about twice as likely as nonsmokers to live in a household where someone else smoked. Among more than 90 percent of youth smokers, one or more of their four closest friends also smoked. By comparison, just 32 percent of high school students who had never smoked had close friends who smoke, and just 17 percent of nonsmoking middle school students had close friends who smoked.

Also, smoking youths were three-to-four times more likely than nonsmokers to buy or wear products that have tobacco company names or pictures on it, according to the survey.

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