Use of smokeless products increases

The use of smokeless-tobacco products reached an 11-year high among 12th-graders nationwide in 2009, according to the annual Monitoring the Future study released yesterday.

The study by University of Michigan researchers found that 8.4 percent of 12th-graders used the products within a 30-day period — the highest level since 8.8 percent in 1998. The rate had been as low as 6.1 percent in 2006 and was 6.5 percent in 2008.

The rate of use among 8th-graders rose from 3.5 percent in 2008 to 3.7 percent in 2009, while the use among 10th-graders increased from 5 percent to 6.5 percent.

By comparison, 20.1 percent of 12th-graders said they smoked within a 30-day period compared with 20.4 percent in 2008.

The study, in its 35th year, included 46,097 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders from 389 schools.

It also showed that ma­rijuana use is becoming more popular among U.S. teenagers and that they have cut down on binge drinking and using methamphetamine. The study comes on the heels of a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month that showed that more local high-school students were using marijuana than smoking cigarettes.

Most researchers and analysts said that it is too soon to tell whether the combination of new smokeless-tobacco products, particularly at subsidiaries of Reynolds American Inc., and recent advertising in magazines played a prominent role in the increases in the use of smokeless-tobacco products.

The report is likely to stoke further debate between two sets of anti-smoking groups.

One set says smokeless tobacco serves as gateway products for teenagers to cigarettes. The other set encourages the products as a way to reduce the risk of tobacco use compared with cigarettes.

“These new products no doubt appeal to kids because they are easy to conceal, carry the names of youth-popular cigarette brands, and come in candy-like forms and flavors,” said Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “More than 60 percent of smokeless marketing is spent on price discounts, including coupons, that make smokeless tobacco products more affordable and appealing to price-sensitive youth customers.”

Among the more outspoken proponents of smokeless-tobacco products as reduced-risk alternatives has been Bill Godshall, the executive director of SmokeFree Pennsylvania.

“It appears that more youth smokers, like adult smokers, are beginning to substitute smokeless tobacco for cigarettes,” Godshall said. “Since cigarettes are 100 times more hazardous than smokeless tobacco, public health benefits every time a smoker switches to smokeless, regardless of age.” The increased marketing of smokeless tobacco likely has had some effect on teenagers, said Dr. John Spangler, a professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Spangler is involved in federally financed research aimed at developing strategy for reducing use or even quitting smokeless-tobacco products.

“It should be noted that research does not support the concept that people will quit smoking by switching to smokeless,” Spangler said.

“In fact, there is a very high risk that smokers who turn to smokeless tobacco become dual users of cigarettes and oral tobacco.”

David Howard, a Reynolds spokesman, said that “it is a guiding principle of the company that youth should not use tobacco products. All of our marketing communications are designed for, and communicate with, adult tobacco consumers.”

Although it was the 10th time in the past 12 years that the smoking rate among 12th-graders declined, anti-tobacco advocates said they are concerned by the marginal drop.

That is because the number of adults who smoke rose from 19.7 percent in 2007 to 20.6 percent — or 46 million Americans — in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The proportions of students seeing a great risk associated with being a smoker has leveled off in the past several years,” Johnston said.


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