Nearly one-third fewer Oklahoma teenagers smoked cigarettes last year compared to 1999, according to a state Health Department survey.
The random survey of 4,000 high school and middle school students estimated there were 54,115 teen smokers in 2005. A similar survey estimated a total of 82,187 smokers in 1999. The survey asked students if they had smoked one or more cigarettes in the past 30 days. Results of the latest survey were released Aug. 14.
In Tulsa County, an estimated 5,134 of the city’s 29,172 high schoolers were smoking in 2005, compared to 9,743 in 1999.
“We’re pleased with the results, but we still have a lot of work to do,” said Vicki Lentz, classrooms program coordinator for the Match Project, which is part of the Tulsa City-County Health Department. “There’s still more goals to accomplish.”
Tulsa County has launched several programs since 1999, and officials there credit those and national programs for the reduction.
Jack Arnold, director of Tulsa Public Schools’ safe and drug-free schools program, said the state’s recent anti-tobacco stance also has helped reduce smoking. Students see fewer adults smoking, thanks largely to laws restricting smoking in restaurants.
But, he said, school districts can’t depend on the state to lead the way. He said during the years covered by the smoking study, Tulsa schools banned smoking on its properties.
“Occasionally, we’ll still have to deal with adults and ask them not to smoke … but even those numbers are way down,” Arnold said.
Also during the time covered by the study, Tulsa schools started working with the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission to reduce smoking. Students are fined $100 if they are caught with tobacco; if they don’t pay the fine, they face driving suspensions.
If they are not 16 when they are cited and don’t pay, they won’t receive their license; if they already have their license, they won’t be able to renew it, Arnold said.
“They know they are being manipulated by big tobacco companies, and young people don’t like to be manipulated,” said Shannon Welch, Oklahoma County coordinator with Students Working Against Tobacco. “They are learning that tobacco companies are manipulating and targeting them to become ‘replacement’ smokers to take the place of individuals who are dying every day from tobacco-related illnesses.”
But an official with the tobacco company Philip Morris USA said accusations about recruiting young smokers are untrue.
“Philip Morris USA doesn’t believe that kids should smoke,” said Jennifer Golisch, a Philip Morris USA spokeswoman. “Smoking is addictive and can lead to serious diseases. We have a robust program on smoking cessation aimed at young people.”
Information from: The Oklahoman, www.newsok.com.