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Smoking Rates Continue to Drop for High School, Middle School Students

August 7th, 2007

Cigarette smoking continues to decrease among New Jersey middle school and high school students, according to the latest statewide survey released today by the Department of Health and Senior Services.

According to the 2006 New Jersey Youth Tobacco Survey (NJYTS), current smoking rates have dropped from 10.5 to 3.2 percent among middle school students and from 27.6 percent to 15.8 percent among high school students since 1999.

During the same seven year period, current use of any tobacco products, including cigars, smokeless tobacco, cigarettes, and bidis – small, hand-rolled imported cigarettes – also significantly declined from 38.9 percent to 24.5 percent among high school students and from 18.9 to 8.4 percent among middle school students.

“Our department has worked with community-based organizations, tobacco-control advocates and New Jersey teens to encourage young people to remain smoke-free or to quit smoking if they have already started,” said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D. “The effort has paid off as the declining rates of tobacco use show. Moreover, laws enacted in 2006 advanced these and other important tobacco-control initiatives in ways that will prevent illness and save lives for generations.”

Last year New Jersey implemented its landmark indoor Smoke-Free Air Act to reduce the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, raised the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 19 to decrease the likelihood of high school students purchasing cigarettes, and increased the state cigarette excise tax for the fourth time making the total tax of $1.77 per pack the highest in the nation.

According to the 2006 NJYTS report, research shows a strong correlation between these tax and smoke-free indoor air laws and youth smoking rates, and these factors probably influenced the declines observed in youth smoking rates. As a result of these efforts, New Jersey is well positioned to reach its Healthy New Jersey 2010 target of a 15 percent smoking rate among high school students.

“To help us sustain this downward trend in youth tobacco use, we are giving special attention to further reducing exposure to secondhand smoke and to reducing racial, ethnic and gender disparities in the use of tobacco products,” Dr Jacobs added.

Differing rates of decline in tobacco use will increase disparities over time. For example, current data show that among high school students, black students reported the highest rate of current bidi use, whereas white students reported the highest rates of cigarette, cigar and smokeless tobacco use. Hispanic middle school students had the highest prevalence of current cigar use. Males had a higher prevalence of use for all tobacco products compared to females.

While reported exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS) has decreased since 1999, many middle (44%) and high school (58%) students reported SHS exposure in their rooms or cars during the seven days preceding the survey.

The 2006 New Jersey Youth Tobacco Survey was administered last fall to 4,241 middle school students in 89 schools and 4,173 high school students in 85 schools. The report was commissioned by the Department of Health and Senior Services and prepared by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) – School of Public Health. Previous surveys were conducted in 1999, 2001 and 2004.

Students were asked about both current and lifetime tobacco use, frequency of use, number of cigarettes and other tobacco products consumed, method of acquiring cigarettes, and secondhand smoke exposure.

The 2006 results represented a decline from 2004, when 17.3 percent of high school students and 4.1 percent of middle school students were current smokers. A current tobacco user is anyone who has used the product at least once in the previous 30 days. Some of the survey’s other key findings include:

  • Since 1999, the prevalence of lifetime use of any tobacco product decreased by 15.6 percent among middle school students and by 16.8 percent among high school students.
  • The number of cigarettes smoked in the last 30 days increases dramatically by grade with smoking rates being highest among 12th graders. However, since 1999, current cigarette smoking prevalence decreased dramatically by 7.3 percent among middle school students and 11.8 percent among high school students.
  • Also, since 1999, current use of any tobacco products decreased by 10.5 percent and 14.4 percent among middle school and high school students, respectively.
  • Frequent cigarette smoking, defined as smoking on 20 or more of the past 30 days, decreased significantly among high school students from 13.8 percent in 1999 to 6.6 percent in 2006.
  • Over 47 percent of current high school smokers reported a desire to stop smoking.

The full 2006 New Jersey Youth Tobacco Survey report is available online at:


Marilyn Riley
New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services
(609) 984-7160

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