Why are fewer young people smoking?

Do they still sell candy cigarettes? When I was a kid, we’d ride our bikes down to the co-op store and plunk down a nickel and we’d get horrible tasting candy cigarettes, with a little swipe of red on the end (I guess that was the ash). Then we’d stand out on steps and pretend we were smoking because it’s what made us look cool. It was only when we didn’t get dates for the prom years later that we realized that it’d take more than candy cigarettes. And, by then too, we learned more about what smoking can do to you.

Still, even fairly recently, kids started smoking, partly because they thought it made them look cool.

But what’s happened here?

A new Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota survey finds a big drop in the number of young adults smoking in Minnesota. And it’s not just this state; other states are reporting similar findings over the last few years. The research shows the state’s 75 cent a pack “health impact fee” introduced in 2005 played a role in curbing smoking as did smoke-free policies on campuses and other public places.

MPR’s Paul Tosto wants to hear from you if you’ve tried to quit.

“We’ve heard already from several folks in our Public Insight Network,” Paul says. “One young woman told us she quit when she got pregnant and the ‘increasing lack of social tolerance for smoking,’ together with the memory of how hard it was to quit, kept her from going back. Smoking ‘was an almost instant passport into a social group anywhere you went’ when she started in 1997 but by 2007 when she quit for good most people looked down on it.

“A 24-year-old tells us that smoking was not even an option for her growing up. ‘No one did it at home and I was too involved in activities like sports to get involved in smoking.'”

  • Chris Glenski

    As a 19 year old college student could I provide my view? My generation has, since 4th grade, had “smoking is bad” drilled into our heads in the schools and in the media. Unlike other controlled substances, I have yet to meet a peer who denies the side affects or proposes any benefits. This is the crazy thing about tobacco- everybody knows its bad. The only people I know who smoke are those who grew up around it or started doing it socially whilst drinking.

  • I first lit a cig when I was 12, and that experience is pretty common among die-hard smokers who brave the cold every winter – like me. Most of us started at 12-14, a few as late as 16.

    There has been massive intervention at those key ages and a bit younger. My kids get it all the time. That and the fact that their Da is at least smart enough to not let them see him smoke, and they have less pressure to even try.

    I think once you’re about 18 you’re out of the woods on smoking, at least in terms of developing a habit you’ll have trouble breaking. That means you’re living with your folks during the vulnerable years. It’s a pretty easy thing to curb if you look at it that way, and the results are stunning generationally.

  • We even tried to light those candy cigarettes on the stove and attempt to smoke them, but it never worked.

    I never did become a smoker.

    Just like your example, I blame sports..

  • I’m 26 and believe it or not, I can still remember seeing cigarette vending machines out in public when I was a younger lad. The well-marketed health risks and my involvement in sports definitely steered me away from smoking, despite the easy access to cigarettes.

    I still vividly remember a poster my dad, a high school biology teacher, put up years ago in his classroom.

    It read: “Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray.”

    That visual still makes me want to gag a little bit. Part of that reaction comes from a disgusting childhood memory.

    When I was around four or five years old, I actually half-swallowed a cigarette when I grabbed what I thought was my mom’s pop can. After tasting a cigarette at that age, I knew I never wanted to smoke one.

  • Bob, we know that three factors can cause a large drop in the number of young smokers in a short period of time.

    1) A youth-focused anti-smoking program. The state’s now defunct Target Market was an excellent example.

    2) Raise the cost of cigarettes. Research proves more younger and “social” smokers will quit.

    3) Smokefree laws and ordinances. The primary purpose is to protect worker health, but it makes it easier for everyone to quit, and separates smoking from drinking, socializing, etc.

    We could do even better in MN if we did #1 as well as #2 & 3.

    Full disclosure: I’m the communications director of the American Lung Association of Minnesota.

  • bigalmn

    Luckily – unlucky for my Dad – when I was 15 he ended up in the Hospital for two weeks with pneumonia.

    It was two weeks because for years he had smoked unfiltered Camela cigarettes and a pipe. This filled his lungs half full of tar. I saw the X-rays. Needless to say that image stopped me everytime I even thought about smoking.

  • I’m a father of children. I think my generation were the first to seriously want to stop smoking themselves. The youngsters of today have seen their parents struggling to escape the evil weed for years and such an unpleasant sight puts you off forever!