A new study finds that of the19.5% of high school students who call themselves smokers most don’t smoke daily or frequently. The findings, which will appear in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, also show that between 1991 and 2009 heavy smoking declined among public and private high school students, but light smoking increased.

Among teen smokers, occasional smoking grew from 67.2% to 79.4%, while heavy smoking dropped from 18% to 7.8%. The data showed no large smoking changes among African-American students, but heavy smoking among Hispanic students rose from 3.1% to 6.4%.

Light smoking is defined as having one to five cigarettes a day, moderate smoking as six to 10 cigarettes daily, and heavy smoking as 11 cigarettes or more a day.

While the downward trend of heavy smoking might sound encouraging, the researchers remain concerned.

“I have noticed more teenagers seem to be smoking just a few cigarettes per day,” says John Frohna, MD, professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I do think there are fewer kids in my practice who are smoking heavily, but I remain concerned that they are smoking at all. We need to continue to reinforce the message that any smoking is unsafe. We also need to ensure strong enforcement of laws against selling cigarettes to children.”

For the study, researchers analyzed responses from students in grades 9 to 12 who participated in national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. Students completed the questionnaires voluntarily during classes at school. The size of the groups surveyed ranged from 10,904 to 16,410.

Source: Center for Advancing Health