Smoking: Old habits die hard for young

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The Independent Online
When they look at their own domestic market, US cigarette manufacturers see bad news and good. Health advocates see good and bad.

Overall, the proportion of adult smokers in the US has fallen from 37.2 per cent in 1974 to 25.5 per cent in 1994. Children, by contrast, are smoking more and more.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, based in Washington, the incidence of smoking is rising among almost all groups of American children. Only African-American girls are smoking a little less.

Smoking among high school seniors, for example, is now at 36.9 per cent - a 19-year high. Since 1991, meanwhile, smoking has increased by 35 per cent among 13-year-old students and 43 per cent among 15-year-olds.

The picture is most striking for African-American boys. The numbers smoking in this group has increased from 14.1 per cent in 1991 to 27.8 per cent in 1995.

School-goers are not the ones smoking American Spirit. They overwhelmingly (about 86 per cent of child-smokers) prefer Marlboro, Camel or Newport - the brands that benefit from the heaviest advertising. Cigarette companies are spending some $13m every day on promoting their brands.

In ethnic terms, the biggest smokers in the US are American Indians and Alaskan natives, where 36.2 per cent of adults are smokers.

Next are African-American adults at 25.8 per cent. The death rate among American Indians from smoking-related diseases is twice that for Americans as a whole.

One note of comparison with Britain: while in 1988, 8 per cent of British children aged 11 to 15 smoked, the proportion today is 13 per cent.