Report Finds Tobacco Use Among Md. Teens Declined Over A 14-Year Period

But 15% of underage youths still smoke, dip and chew.

Baltimore, Md (KM)  A report released by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene finds a drop in tobacco use by underage teenagers. It recorded a 60% decrease in smoking, dipping and chewing by high school students between 2000 and 2014.

Dawn Berkowitz, the Director of the Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control, says a lot of this is due to education work being done by local health departments, along with the Maryland Tobacco Quit Line, which provides counseling 24-hours a day, seven-days a week to help people quit tobacco.

But she also gives retailers credit for refusing to sell tobacco products to individuals under 18. “Most people do start using tobacco before of legal age, before they’re 18 years old,” says Berkowitz. “So we’ve been working with every local health department and all licensed tobacco retailers in the state to get the message out.” She says retailers are trained to ask those who appear to be under 18 for identification before they can buy tobacco products.

The report, entitled “Monitoring Changing Tobacco Use Behaviors 2000-2014,'” says that one challenge facing efforts to discourage teenagers from starting to use tobacco products is that many feel that smoking makes them “look cool” and “smokers have more friends than non-smokers.” Due to the increase in Maryland’s tax on a pack of cigarettes, many underage teens have turned to cigars.

Berkowitz says another challenge is the use of e-cigarettes among young people, which were not subject to federal regulations until recently. “So they just, in the last couple of months, came under FDA regulations but we really don’t know what’s in them. There’s not a standard,” she said. “When researchers have looked at nicotine content, it’s often not exactly what is published so it can actually be higher or lower.”

Even though tobacco use has declined among young people, the report says 880,000 Marylanders use tobacco products, placing them at a serious health risk. DHMH says 19% of adults use tobacco products, while 15% of underage teens statewide use tobacco products.

According to the report, 15% of Frederick County teenagers use tobacco products.

Berkowitz says tobacco use among teenagers is higher in western Maryland. The report says 30% of young people in Garrett County use tobacco, the highest in the state. In Allegheny County, it’s 23%, and in Washington County, it’s 22%. “We know that in western Maryland women smoking during pregnancy is really high,” she says. “We really want to work with pregnant women and make  them aware of the dangers.”

She says some of these women stop smoking during pregnancy, and resume after they give birth.

For those who smoke or dip or chew and want to quit, there is help. DHMH says local health departments have programs to help people give up the habit, including nicotine replacement therapy (the patch of gum). In addition, residents can also call the Maryland Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW, 24-hours a day, seven-days a week.

Berkowitz says quitting smoking or other uses for tobacco is not easy. “The biggest challenge is that it’s such an addictive product. So it’s really not breaking a habit, but really breaking the addition,” she says.

In 2014, the report says, two-thirds of Maryland adults who reported smoking have quit, and more than 14% of adult smokers quit in the past 12 months. And nearly one-third of adults who smoke and want to quite would like to drop this addiction within the next 30 days.

By Kevin McManus