Smoking climbs among young adults

By Daniel Weintraub
California Health Report

Smoking among young adults in California is climbing even as the tobacco habit has leveled off or is declining among younger and older residents of the state, according to a new report from the state Department of Public Health.

The smoking rate among adults aged 18 to 24 rose from 12.3 percent in 2010 to 14.6 percent in 2011, the report said. The increase came after the rate had declined in four of the previous five years.

That group had the highest smoking rate of any age group in the California. The rate was 13.2 percent among 25 to 44 year olds, 12.1 percent among 45 to 64 year olds and 6.9 percent among those 65 and older. Among all adults the smoking rate was 12 percent in 2011, virtually unchanged from the 11.9 percent rate the year before.

The increase among young adults might be a delayed effect of the state’s success in tamping down smoking by high school students, said Colleen Stevens, branch chief for the tobacco control program.

With high school students smoking less, many of those people might be simply putting off trying tobacco until they are 18, and then becoming addicted. The smoking rate among high school students has declined from 21.6 percent in 2000 to 13.8 percent in 2010, although the number of students who reported trying tobacco increased slightly between 2008 and 2010.

“We’ve done a good job keeping kids from starting to smoke,” Stevens said. “When people are in their home, in their families, there are a lot of smoke-free homes in California.

“When people leave home, they are on their own, experimenting with life, there’s a little window there where we really have concerns.”

Stevens and Dr. Ron Chapman, the state health officer, said they are also worried about an increase in tobacco advertising and the creation of new, smokeless products that appear to be designed to appeal to youth, including mint-flavored strips and tablets. Illegal sales to minors have also been increasing.

The report also showed that smoking rates among ethnic minorities continue to be higher than among whites, in most cases.

African-American men have the highest smoking rates, at 18.9 percent, followed by Latino men at 15.5 percent. White men smoke at a rate of 14.3 percent, while the rate for Asian men is 13.1 percent. Just over 15 percent of African-American women smoke, compared to 11.2 percent for white women, 5.7 percent for Latinas and 4.5 percent for Asian women.

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