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Study: More U.S. High School Students Smoking Thursday April24:07 PM EST

Study: More U.S. High School Students Smoking

By Mike Cooper

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Smoking by high school students rose 36 percent between 1991 and 1997, fueled by an 80 percent increase in smoking rates among black teenagers, federal health officials said on Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the percentage of black male students who smoked has doubled since 1991. Smoking by black female students rose 54 percent during the same period.

"We were very disturbed by the massive increase in smoking by African-American high school students," said Michael Eriksen, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.

Between 1991 and 1997, cigarette smoking increased by 28 percent among white students, 34 percent among Hispanic students, and 80 percent among black students.

In 1997, 39.7 percent of white students had smoked a cigarette during the past month. Among black students, the prevalence of smoking rose from 14.1 percent to 28.2 percent among males and rose from 11.3 percent to 17.4 percent among females.

"Even among African-American females, which had been our shining star of resisting smoking, there was a substantial increase over the last two years," Eriksen said.

Overall, the CDC said that 36.4 percent of high school students surveyed last year that they had smoked during the past month. In 1991, 27.5 percent said they had smoked.

"We're losing ground in the battle to protect our children," Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said. "Congress must act promptly to enact comprehensive tobacco control legislation to protect our children."

In 1997, at least one in two white male high school students and about 41 percent of white female students reported using cigarettes, cigars or smokeless tobacco such as chewing tobacco in the past month.

The CDC said 46.8 of white high school students, 36.8 percent of Hispanics and 29.4 percent of black high school students had used a tobacco product during the past month. The survey was based on interviews with 16,262 students across the country.

Cigar use has surpassed smokeless tobacco use, the agency said. About 22 percent of students, including 31.2 percent of males and 10.8 percent of females, said they had smoked a cigar during the past month.

Eriksen said researchers do not know why smoking is rising among adolescent blacks. He said past research had shown that white and black females perceived smoking differently.

"White adolescent girls felt smoking made them look glamorous, older and more sophisticated. Black females felt just the opposite, that it was a drag on their life, that it was a liability, that it was disrespectful and would hurt their career performance," Eriksen said.

The CDC's Office on Smoking and Health said about 6,000 young people try a cigarette every day and more than half of them will become regular smokers.

The agency said if current tobacco-use patterns persisted, about 5 million people who were younger than 18 years old in 1995 will die prematurely from a smoking-related illness.

The CDC said cigarette smoking causes heart disease, stroke, chronic lung disease and cancers of the lung, mouth, pharynx, esophagus and bladder.

Cigarette smoking by young people leads to an increase in the number and severity of respiratory illness, decreased physical fitness, adverse changes in blood cholesterol levels and reduced rates of lung growth and function, the agency said.

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