Smoking among Kentucky youth dropped by one-fourth from 2011 to 2013, biennial CDC survey determines

Photo from TobaccoPreventionK12

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Fewer Kentucky high-school students are smoking cigarettes. The state dropped to sixth place from first in high-school smoking in the 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System report.

In the survey, which is done in odd-numbered years, 17.9 percent of Kentucky high-schoolers reported that they were smoking cigarettes, down one-fourth from 24.1 percent in 2011. Nationwide, the current rate is 15.7 percent.

In 1997, when the CDC first started tracking student smoking, 47 percent of Kentucky youth reported smoking.  The state has now cut that bu more than half, and gone beyond its “Healthy Kentuckians 2020” goal of reducing youth smoking to 19 percent.

The survey sampled 1,626 Kentucky high-school students and got responses from 85 percent. The final sample of 1,382 is subject to an error margin of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, leaving no doubt that youth smoking in Kentucky declined significantly from 2011 to 2013 — by 25.7 percent, if the figures are without sampling error.

Before state officials knew about the big drop in 2011-13, they set a goal of decreasing youth smoking by another 10 percent by 2019 as part of the “kyhealthnow” initiative.

“When I announced our ambitious goals for kyhealthnow in February of this year, smoking was one of the most obvious areas we needed to address,” Gov. Steve Beshear said in a news release. “I am pleased to see teen smoking trending downward, but I remain committed to further reducing cigarette use among our youth.”

Kyhealthnow is an aggressive plan to improve the state’s collective health. One component of the plan to cut youth smoking by 10 percent includes comprehensive smoke-free policies and tobacco-free schools.

Only 33 of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts are tobacco-free, according to the state Department for Public Health. Since nearly nine out of 10 smokers start by age 18, early intervention is a “key element in reducing the overall burden of tobacco use in Kentucky,” the release says.

Youth who smoke can develop cardiovascular disease, smaller lungs that don’t function normally, wheezing that can lead to asthma, and eventually cellular damage that can lead to cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes and a host of other diseases, according to the release.

“While we’re pleased to see a reduction in youth smoking, it’s important to note that we still have too many youth who smoke and others who are exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke,” said state Health Commissioner Stephanie Mayfield. “The health consequences of smoking are seen throughout many of the diseases impacting Kentuckians. Smoking cessation could significantly reduce the rates of cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases which are linked to tobacco use.”

Smoking cessation programs are available to people 15 and older in Kentucky, and are available in multiple languages. For more information call 1-800-784-8669 or go to

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