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Teen smoking drops to record lows

An annual survey of middle and high school students found the average number of smokers in that age range had fallen a whole percentage point since 2011. Some attribute the decline to higher cigarette taxes.

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Packs of cigarettes waiting to be purchased at a Chicago area news stand Nov. 30. Some attribute a sharp decline in teen smoking to increases in cigarette taxes.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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Cigarette smoking among American teenagers dropped to a record low in 2012, a decline that may have been partly driven by a sharp hike in the federal tobacco tax, researchers said on Wednesday.

An annual survey of about 45,000 students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades found that the overall proportion of those saying they had smoked in the prior 30 days fell by just over a percentage point to 10.6 percent.

"A one percentage point decline may not sound like a lot, but it represents about a 9 percent reduction in a single year in the number of teens currently smoking," Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator in the study, said in a statement.

He said reductions on that scale can translate into the prevention of thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of cases of cancer and other serious disease.

More than 400,000 Americans are estimated to die prematurely each year as a result of cigarette smoking - the No. 1 cause of preventable U.S. deaths - and most smokers begin their habit as adolescents, experts say.

Healthcare advocates hailed Wednesday's findings as evidence that higher cigarette taxes were paying off, combined with federal curbs on youth-oriented tobacco marketing and sales and a sweeping anti-smoking media campaign.

The researchers also cited the increase in federal cigarette taxes, raised by 62 cents a pack in 2009, as a likely contributing factor. The findings were part of an annual survey by University of Michigan researchers released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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