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FOR RELEASE: November 14, 2002
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
405/271-5601

2002 Oklahoma Youth Tobacco Survey Shows Progress, More Action Needed

Tobacco use among Oklahoma youth has declined significantly since 1999, according to the initial report of the 2002 Oklahoma Youth Tobacco Survey (OYTS) released today by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Among high school students, tobacco use dropped from 42.1 percent or about 74,000 students in 1999 to 31.9 percent or about 56,000 students in 2002. Tobacco use among middle school students dropped from 20.7 percent or about 29,000 students in 1999 to 15.8 percent or about 22,000 students in 2002.

Cigarette smoking among high school students declined from 33.5 percent or about 59,000 students in 1999 to 24.0 percent or about 42,000 students in 2002. Among middle school students, cigarette smoking dropped from 17.1 percent or about 24,000 middle school students in 1999 to 10.3 percent or about 15,000 students in 2002.

“This is great news for Oklahoma youth and their families,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie M. Beitsch. “The challenge is to keep making progress and to turn these tremendous gains into long-term results that will improve the state’s overall health. Too many of our children are still getting hooked. One out of three teen smokers will die early as a direct result of their addiction.”

Other findings from the initial 2002 OYTS report include:

  • Use of “spit” tobacco (snuff and chewing tobacco) declined from 13.1 percent to 10.1 percent among high school students and from 6.7 percent to 4.9 percent among middle school students.
  • Cigar smoking declined from 19.5 percent to 16.4 percent among high school students and from 9.2 percent to 7.6 percent among middle school students.

“While a variety of factors likely contributed to these promising results, a preliminary analysis of Oklahoma survey data and earlier findings in other states suggest that the most effective prevention programs are those that involve youth as leaders in exposing tobacco industry marketing practices,” said Beitsch. Such youth-driven prevention programs in Oklahoma include the “SWAT” (Students Working Against Tobacco) youth movement, the Oklahoma “Reality” media campaign, and the national “Truth” media campaign.

The lowest youth tobacco use rates appear to be in those areas of the state where the youth have had the greatest exposure to these programs. High school students in Tulsa County had both the highest exposure to the prevention programs and significantly lower rates of cigarette smoking than the statewide average (19.1 percent versus 24.0 percent). Tulsa County is the site of a comprehensive tobacco use prevention and cessation demonstration project started in spring 2001 and administered by the Tulsa City-County Health Department.

“We need to fully fund the most promising prevention programs across the state. We also need to improve our public policies on critical tobacco issues and dramatically reduce tobacco use among adults,” said Beitsch, “or we cannot expect to see the long-term, statewide results that are within our reach.”

Tobacco use is Oklahoma’s leading cause of preventable death, killing more Oklahomans each year than alcohol, illicit drugs, car accidents, homicides, AIDS, and fires combined.

The OYTS is a representative survey of all middle school and high school students in Oklahoma.

Current use is defined as having used tobacco on one or more days in the last 30 days. The OYTS was conducted in the spring of 2002 by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, in cooperation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Oklahoma State Department of Education, and numerous partners from local health agencies and local school districts. Subsequent reports from the 2002 OYTS will be released over the coming months to further examine trends in tobacco use among Oklahoma youth by ethnicity and race; exposure to prevention messages through school programs, community activities and media campaigns; knowledge and attitudes about tobacco use; access to tobacco products; and quit attempts.

Copies of the initial OYTS report are available by contacting the Tobacco Use Prevention Service at 405-271-3619 or may be accessed online at http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/tobac/events.htm

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