The 1950s ushered in the first teenage rebellions. In fact, the word “teenager” wasn’t created until then. World War II was over, the economy improved, and suddenly youth had spending money. They went from listening to the music of their parents to listening to their own rock and roll. The music and their new rebellious movie idols seemed to make the teens more restless. Think of that time and iconic images of James Dean, with his black leather jacket and ever-present lighted cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth come to mind. Or Brando in a tight t-shirt, looking tough and ready for a fight with his lighted cigarette. This was the fashion, the mannerisms, the culture the teens from this time wanted to emulate. Smoking was socially acceptable and glamorized, and cigarettes were cheap and easy to get. While it is difficult to find numbers for youth smoking during the 1950s, one report, Cigarette Smoking In the United States, 1950-1978, estimated 51.4% of males in the 18-24 year age group smoked in 1955.
Fast forward over 50 years later, the youth are still rebelling, but are doing it without cigarettes in their lives. Not only is the smoking rate down among youth, but so is the amount smoked. In 2000, just over 27% of high school students smoked nationwide; slightly over 22% for Florida high school students who said they smoked cigarettes on one or more of the past 30 days in the same year. Figures from the CDC for 2011 stated about 18% of high school students smoked nationwide. The Florida Youth Tobacco Survey gave smoking rates at 11.9% for high school schools students during the same year. According to a Gallup Poll the amount smoked has also shown a decrease. In 1954, about 40% of people said they smoked less than one pack a day; in 2012 that number was at 68%; fewer people smoking, fewer cigarettes being smoked.
There are several reasons why the youth are not taking up smoking as they had in the past. Higher federal and state taxes on a pack of cigarettes have made smoking a pricey habit, especially in this economy of fewer jobs and low wages. While youth of the 1950s were exposed to smoking ads in print and on television, today’s youth are exposed to real-life people who have been negatively affected by smoking. Smoking in public is also not as socially acceptable as it was in past decades. And laws have made it more difficult, but not impossible, for under 18 youth to purchase tobacco products.
Today’s youth are still rebelling in their own way and testing authority. The one thing they have going for them that previous generations did not is the amount of information out there regarding the dangers of smoking and tobacco. Fifty years ago tobacco companies denied their products were harmful; today they are agreeing with “medical and scientific consensus” that “there is no safe cigarette.” At the moment we can’t take cigarettes off the market, but we can educate our youth about the dangers of tobacco and smoking and help them make healthier choices during their lifetime.
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