NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teenage Smoking Surged in the '90s

September 17, 2001

After a steady 15-year decline, the smoking rate among U.S. teens rose by one-third from 1991 to 1997 -- hitting 35 percent.

Smoking increased more among whites than blacks, more in the suburbs than the cities, and more among teens with high grades and college-educated mothers.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers Jonathan Gruber and Jonathan Zinman attempted to identify the causes.

  • A sharp drop in cigarette prices in the early 1990s explains about 25 percent of the increase in smoking among high school seniors, the researchers report.
  • But that does not seem to explain the jump in smoking rates among younger teens -- who are less price-sensitive.
  • The dramatic rise in cigarette prices in recent years, however, has once again had the effect of discouraging teen smoking.
  • Teen smoking is highly correlated with later adult smoking.

Thus, they estimate that as much as half the rise in youth smoking in the '90s may persist into adulthood -- shortening the lives of more than half a million people.

Source: Gene Koretz, "Economic Trends: A Teenage Smoking Puzzle," Business Week, September 24, 2001; based on Jonathan Gruber and Jonathan Zinman, "Youth Smoking in the U.S.: Evidence and Implications," NBER Working Paper No. W7780, July 2000, National Bureau of Economic Research.

For NBER text


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