The Florida Youth Tobacco Survey (FYTS) was first administered in 1998 and has been conducted annually in the spring by the Florida Department of Health. It tracks tobacco use and exposure to prevention among a random selection of Florida public school students in 6-12 grade levels. The information is important as it asks questions about tobacco use among students, their thoughts about use, health and social attitudes towards tobacco, and tobacco use prevention education. Educators are a front line to teach about the dangers of tobacco and help students in their goal to make informed decisions that will affect their future and their lives. That’s why the Florida Tobacco Prevention Online course, which started in Palm Beach County, went statewide for the 2010-2011 school year. Here are some statistics for the State of Florida. Your specific county statistics can be found here.
In 1998 when the FYTS was first administered, 68.1% of high school students surveyed tried smoking. That number dropped to 37.3% in 2010. Rates for middle school students were 43.6% and 16.8% respectively. The numbers for current cigarette use was lower, 4.9% of middle school students and 13.1% of high school students had smoked at least once in the past 30 days.
In 2010, when asked about their current smokeless tobacco use during the past 30 days, 6.4% of high school students and 3.0% of middle school students said they had used the products. While those numbers are low compared with actual smoking, high school rates have gone up and are almost as high as the 1998 rates.
Flavored tobacco use, which is tobacco that has been made to taste like chocolate, candy or fruit flavors, was also surveyed. Of those students surveyed, 3.0% of middle school students and 6.5% of high school students have smoked flavored cigarettes in the past 30 days. While these numbers are lower than “regular” cigarette use, they are still alarming as the FDA authorized a ban on cigarettes containing certain flavors on September 22, 2009. If these products are illegal, where are the students obtaining them?
Social attitudes towards smoking among middle and high school students have changed since 1998 when 56.0% of middle school and 59.1% of high school students definitely did not think that smoking makes people look “cool” or “fit in.” In 2010 those numbers were up, 72.3% for middle school students and 73.6% for high school students. The social attitudes towards smoking has gone from pro-tobacco to anti-tobacco.
According to the survey, tobacco prevention education for high school students actually went down .1% from the numbers for 1998. In high schools, prevention education taught in school increased 27.6% between 1998 and 2002, but then decreased by 21.8% from 2002 to 2010. In middle school tobacco prevention taught in school increased by 25.5% between 1998-2002, but decreased 8.7% from 2002-2010.
It is important to continue to reach out to students on the dangers of tobacco as early as possible as attitudes are formed young, but peer pressure and the media can chip away their resolve to remain tobacco free. Tobacco companies continually find new ways to market their products and sell to the young smoker. As seen by these numbers, even when bans on products are in effect, students are still able to find, purchase and use tobacco products.
The numbers on this survey should continue to be a major concern for the Department of Health in the State of Florida, as well as the FDA. The biggest question that needs to be answered is if the legal age to purchase tobacco in the United States is 18 years old, where are all these under-aged users getting tobacco and why isn’t more being done about it?