Smoking Losing Popularity Among Teens

Teen smoking and illegal tobacco sales have fallen consistently for over a decade

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Smokers tend to pick up the habit earlier rather than later in life. Fortunately, getting ahold of cigarettes has become tougher and fewer teens are lighting up these days.

A recent report looked at annual underage smoking rates in the US and illegal tobacco sales to minors.

The results of the study showed that underage smoking has dropped by nearly half and illegal tobacco sales have fallen drastically since the 1990s.

"Encourage teens to avoid smoking."

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services, released their annual report on illegal cigarette sales to minors in the US.

“[T]he most commonly used form of tobacco, cigarettes, causes about one of every five deaths in this country each year. Nearly all tobacco use begins during youth and young adulthood,” the study authors wrote.

The researchers reported that 36.7 percent of adults who had ever smoked tried their first cigarette by age 14. And the majority of adult smokers (88 percent) said they started smoking before turning 18.

Nearly all US adult smokers (99 percent) said they started smoking before turning 26.

For the past 16 years, the Synar Amendment program has been sponsored by SAMHSA, which works with state and federal partners to stop the illegal sale of cigarettes to minors.

Oklahoma State Representative Mike Synar brought the Synar Amendment into the legal landscape in 1992. As part of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act, the Synar Amendment outlawed the sale of tobacco products to persons under the age of 18.

To comply with the Synar program, each state must do random inspections of stores that sell tobacco products and report the number of violations they issue for illegal tobacco sales to minors every year. For the random inspections, undercover minors were sent into retail outlets to purchase tobacco products.

In 1997, which was the first year of the program inspections, the average retailer violation rate was 40.1 percent across the US. That same year, one state had retailer violations as high as 72.7 percent.

By 2012, the average retailer violation rate dropped to 9.1 percent nationwide, and the highest rate of violation in any state was 17.9 percent.

For the seventh year in Synar history, no states were found to be out of compliance with Synar regulations in 2012.

The researchers noted that the average retailer violation rate in 2011 was the lowest in history at 8.5 percent. However, the rate in 2012 was the second lowest rate since the start of the program.

In 1995, a total of 38.7 percent of smokers under the age of 18 said they usually bought their own cigarettes at a store or gas station. By 2011, only 14.0 percent of underage smokers said they bought their own cigarettes.

These reductions in tobacco purchase rates were reflected in lower smoking rates in minors as well. From 1995 to 2011, the rate of underage student smokers dropped by nearly half from 34.8 percent to 18.1 percent.

“Over its 16 year history the Synar program has made remarkable strides in lowering the levels of illegal tobacco sales to minors across the nation, but far more needs to be done to prevent kids and young adults from using tobacco, which is still the nation’s leading cause of preventable death,” Frances M. Harding, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, said in a press release.

This report was published in August on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.

Review Date: 
August 28, 2013
Last Updated:
August 30, 2013