updated 4/1/2005 7:24:56 PM ET 2005-04-02T00:24:56

Tobacco use is no longer decreasing among middle and high school students, underscoring the need to fully implement smoking-prevention measures targeting youths, the federal government reported Thursday.

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After years of declining tobacco use among children starting in the late 1990s, new data indicates use of cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products among students in grades 6 to 12 has not changed in recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

More than one out of five high school students (22.3 percent) and one out of 12 middle school students (8.1 percent) said they were cigarette smokers in a national survey of 31,774 students conducted last year by the CDC.

When including the use of any form of tobacco, the rates climbed to 28 percent among high schoolers and 11.7 percent among middle schoolers.

The rates were about the same as those in a similar 2002 survey, the CDC said.

Progress stalled
The report disappointed tobacco opponents and health advocates.

“It says the significant progress that we’ve made as a nation in reducing youth smoking has stalled,” said Bill Corr, executive director of Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids.

The CDC said the data underscores the need to implement “evidence-based strategies,” such as increasing the retail price of tobacco products, running more smoking-prevention media campaigns and decreasing children’s access to tobacco.

Even though most states have increased their taxes on tobacco in recent years, Corr said the tobacco industry has responded by lowering the wholesale prices for their products, offsetting the tax hikes. At the same time, many budget-strapped states also have cut funding to tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

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