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FOR RELEASE: January 28, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Tobacco Use Among Oklahoma Youth Higher Than National Average

According to results of a national survey released this week, Oklahoma youth are using tobacco products at substantially higher rates than the national average. The 1999 National Youth Tobacco Survey, conducted by the American Legacy Foundation in cooperation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that 35 percent of the nation's high school students and 13 percent of middle school students are current users of tobacco products. In comparison, the 1999 Oklahoma Youth Tobacco Survey indicated that 42 percent of Oklahoma high school students and 21 percent of Oklahoma middle school students are current tobacco users.

"The number of Oklahoma children who are becoming addicted to these deadly products is simply tragic. If Oklahoma does not soon allocate sufficient resources to take effective action against tobacco addiction as other states have, the tremendous costs of tobacco will continue to plague our children and all Oklahoma citizens at higher rates than the rest of the country," said State Health Commissioner J.R. Nida, M.D.

Nida said the soon-to-be-released State of the State's Health Year 2000 Report affirms that Oklahomans are continuing to die at higher rates than the national average from diseases directly related to tobacco addiction, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The national and state surveys indicated youth tobacco use in Oklahoma is above average in virtually every category and population group reported. Comparisons indicate that:

  • Nationally, 29 percent of high school students and 10 percent of middle school students smoke cigarettes. In Oklahoma, 33 percent of high school students and 17 percent of Oklahoma middle school students are current cigarette smokers.
  • Fifteen percent of high school students and 6 percent of middle schools students in the U.S. are current users of cigars. In Oklahoma, 20 percent of high school students and 9 percent of middle school students use cigars.
  • Seven percent of the U.S. high school students and 3 percent of U.S. middle school students report using "spitting" tobacco, including snuff and chewing tobacco, compared to 13 percent of Oklahoma high school students and 6 percent of Oklahoma middle school students.
  • Nationally, cigarette smoking among high school students was 26 percent for Hispanics, 33 percent for whites, and 16 percent for African Americans. In Oklahoma, the rates are 35 percent for Hispanics, 34 percent for whites and 19 percent for African Americans. Forty percent of Native American high school students are current cigarette smokers in Oklahoma. No rates were reported for Native Americans in the national survey.
  • Nationally, cigarette smoking among middle school students was 11 percent for Hispanics, 9 percent for whites, and 9 percent for African Americans. In Oklahoma, the middle school student smoking rates are 18 percent for Hispanics, 17 percent for whites, 8 percent for African Americans, and 22 percent of Native Americans.

"This is the first time we have had the opportunity in Oklahoma to directly compare the results of a national survey with our state survey on youth tobacco use when both were conducted using the same survey methodology. Now we know for sure what we had always suspected -- Oklahoma is behind the rest of country when it comes to reducing the number of children that become victims of the state's leading killer, tobacco addiction," said Nida.

The Oklahoma Youth Tobacco Survey was conducted in the spring of 1999 by the Oklahoma State Department of Health in cooperation with the CDC, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and numerous other partners. The National Youth Tobacco Survey was conducted during the fall of 1999 with results published in the January 28, 2000, issue of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Current use is defined in both surveys as using tobacco within the last 30 days.

Tobacco addiction is the leading cause of preventable death in Oklahoma, causing over 6,000 deaths each year. More than 40 Oklahoma children become addicted to tobacco products every day and one out of three will likely die prematurely as a result. Smoking-attributable costs in Oklahoma are estimated to exceed $1 billion each year, or a per-capita cost of over $300. Oklahoma has the ninth-highest rate of smoking-related deaths in the nation.

In resolutions adopted in 1999, the State Board of Health asked that the funds obtained in the tobacco settlement be spent in significant part on health issues related to tobacco addiction. The Board's stance is "based on the well-documented evidence that nicotine addiction is clearly the number one addiction problem in Oklahoma with ever-mounting costs in lives, in years lived with disabilities, in health care expenditures in both the private sector and in the state budget, and in opportunities lost for economic development."

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