Teen Smoking Rates at Lowest Since Tracking Began

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been tracking teenage smoking rates for forty years. In the first year (1976), the metric only recorded 12th grade or senior high school students. That year, 28% of that population reported smoking regularly. Teenagers continued to make up a significant portion of the country’s smoking population when subgroups of 10th graders and 8th graders were introduced into the survey. By the mid-90s, 12th grade smoking rates had fallen slightly to 25%, with 10th and 8th graders reporting 18% and 10% rates, respectively.

In 1998, The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement boosted a health and awareness campaign to increase customer knowledge about the adverse effects of tobacco. Especially targeted in this campaign were underage smokers, who were illegally purchasing products directly from stores or through intermediaries.

The U.S. government got further into the act throughout the 90’s, first introducing new regulations and harsher punishments for sale to minors, the restricting sales of tobacco in certain areas and introducing new labeling requirements for vendors, as well as employee training to recognize identification.

This combination of vigorous marketing and sensible legislation has been extraordinarily successful and the latest Health and Human Services Trends in Adolescent Tobacco Use Report, released at the end of 2016, shows that smoking rates for 12th, 10th and 8th graders has dropped to 6%, 3% and 1% respectively, or a 75-90% decrease in underage (or aged 18) smokers.

CDA applauds this success and appreciates that these efforts lead to healthier outcomes. Our members will do everything in their power to keep tobacco out of the hands of underage youth. That said, we caution lawmakers to keep these facts in mind when drawing up future tobacco regulations. Given these low rates, targeted policymaking is more likely to harm small businesses than it is to further curb youth tobacco use.

CDA is also a Board member of the We Card program. The We Card Program, Inc. is a national non-profit organization serving the nation's retailers of tobacco, alcohol, e-cigarettes, vapor products and other age-restricted products. Individual retail establishments as well as large retail chains utilize We Card's educational and training services for their compliance efforts with federal, state and local laws on preventing age-restricted product sales to minors.

National and state retail trade associations, government officials, community groups and others also support We Card's ongoing efforts to raise awareness of responsible retailing and age verification requirements and to educate and train retail employees to identify and prevent underage attempts to purchase age-restricted products.