According to the CDC report, in 1991 nearly 28 percent of high school students said they "currently smoked," meaning they had smoked on at least one of the preceding 30 days. By 1997, that percentage had increased to 36.4 percent.
However, by 2003, the percentage of teens who smoked had fallen to 21.9 percent. Since then the rate of decline has slowed, so that by 2009 the percentage of teens who smoked had dropped only a little, to 19.5 percent.
The rate of teens who labeled themselves as "frequent" smokers (at least 20 of the last 30 days) rose from about 12 percent in 1991 to close to 17 percent in 199, but then dipped to 9.7 percent in 2003, falling to 7.3 percent in 2009.
The percentage of teens who reported ever smoking (even a puff or two) stayed stable at about 70 percent through the 1990s, but dropped to 58.4 percent in 2003. By 2009, that number stood at 46.3 percent.
The findings were published in the July 9 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a news release that "the good news in the CDC's 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey is that the high school smoking rate (the percentage who smoked in the past month) declined to 19.5 percent in 2009. This is the first time it has fallen below 20 percent and the lowest rate since this survey was started in 1991.
"The bad news," he added, "is that high school smoking declined by just 11 percent between 2003 and 2009, compared to a 40 percent decline between 1997 and 2003."
The challenge for elected officials is to fight tobacco use with the political will and resources that match the scope of the problem, Myers said.
"Tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans and costs $96 billion in health-care bills each year," he said. "We know how to win the fight against this killer.
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