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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Florida leads nation in fewest teenage smokers

After slashing teen smoking rates by more than 50 percent within 14 years, Florida is now home to the lowest percentage of high school smokers in the nation.

At the turn of the century, about 15.7 percent of state high school students said they had smoked a cigarette at least once within 30 days, according to a study conducted by Florida Health and Tobacco Free Florida. This year only 7.5 percent of high schoolers said the same — the lowest in the country.

“Smoking is the No. 1 preventative cause of death, usually in the form of heart disease or cancer,” said Andrew Romero, a health policy specialist at Tobacco Free Alachua. 

One-fifth of U.S. deaths are due to smoking, Romero said, which adds up to about 443,000 a year. 

This week, the largest national youth smoking-prevention campaign, “truth,” released the first of eight nationwide commercials, which showcased Florida’s low teen-smoking rate. 

Robin Koval, the CEO and president of Legacy — the national public health foundation that directs and funds “truth” — said the campaign first launched in August and aims to empower teens against tobacco use.

“We want to remind them that their generation has the power to accelerate the decline in youth smoking and even end it for good,” Koval said in an emailed statement. 

Residents of Alachua County can utilize three methods to help them quit smoking, Romero said: calling a quitline, attending an in-person help session or taking an online course. All of these have helped lower Florida’s smoking rates, he said. 

Romero said Tobacco Free Alachua enters high school halls through its program Students Working Against Tobacco, which hosts one-on-one interactions with students and works toward eliminating tobacco use in youth.  

“It’s a way for students to make a difference and stand up to an industry that targets them,” Romero said.  

The program is in effect at local high schools like Gainesville and Buchholz.

“It teaches youth how to be a successful community leader,” Romero said. 

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Only 8.6 percent of UF students smoke cigarettes, he said, and because college students serve as role models for high schoolers, it may act as another reason why young state-smoker rates dropped.

Lisa Craig, the local American Heart Association spokeswoman, said people tend to forget smoking can lead to severe heart problems. The association regularly lobbies for more smoke-free public places like restaurants.

“We try to create a culture of change from all aspects,” Craig said. 

[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 11/13/2014]

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