Teen smoking rates hit an all time low - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Teen smoking rates hit an all time low

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According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, fewer teens are lighting up than two years ago.

The study shows that two years ago, 17.7 percent of high school students were regular smokers. That dropped to 13.1 percent this year.

For middle school students, it went from 3.9 percent to 2.5 percent.

“Everybody involved with anti-tobacco education is smiling today,” said Mike Plaza, a health teacher at D.C. Everest High School.

Plaza says health classes play a big part in the declining numbers.

During his tobacco unit, he asks student is they smoke.

“Years ago, I’ve been doing this for 27 years, you’d get maybe a third of your class… and there was no stigma attached to it,” said Plaza.

But he says attitudes have changed.

“Now, maybe one, two, and they’re a little bit more ashamed, and the ones that speak up say, ‘You know, I wish I could quit,’” said Plaza.

Marathon County health leaders say teens may not be smoking as much, but they’re still using tobacco.

“The tobacco industry, what we’re finding is that they’ve wised up. They’ve created these new products,” said Melissa Dotter of the Marathon County Department of Health.

Health Department officials say products that contain tobacco and look like mints or gum are marketed toward teens.

“They’re candy flavored. They’re packaged like candy, and they’re very cheap. They’re not taxed at the same rate as other tobacco products are, for example, cigarettes,” said Dotter.

Health Department officials say the cheaper cost is part of why teens are buying them.

“The evidence shows that tobacco rates will decline with an increase in price,” said Dotter.

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