Right on the heels of a study that showed that even with the confounding factor of height (which, apparently, is correlated with a higher risk of cancer in women), smoking carries a significant cancer risk, another study, this one dealing with substance abuse and mental health, declared that teenagers and young adults do not view smoking as a high-risk activity.
The study was conducted on a state-by-state basis. The perceived risks of smoking dropped significantly among teenagers in 14 states, and among young adults in a shocking 31 states. The number of states where people older than 26 failed to recognize smoking’s health risks was lower – in just 9 states, the perceived risks of smoking decreased in this age group.
According to the survey, 28% of Americans had used tobacco in the last month.
The study was surprising in the wake of the news that teen smoking had declined among American teenagers. Some saw a connection between the number of movies in which actors smoke, which has fallen significantly in the past five years, and the lower rates of teen cigarette smoking and experimentation with tobacco. But these media influences can’t seem to explain young adults’ changing perceptions about cigarette smoking and risk.
At the same time, as a member of the demographic that seems to be the least concerned about the health risks associated with cigarettes, these findings make sense to me. My guess is that most people who have this attitude smoke socially, and thus do not feel that they are at risk. Even though they may not be smoking “heavily,” however, cancer is still a serious concern.
These findings can help the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration help individual states target their funding. As this study shows, perceptions and practices are highly localized, and subject to change. ”No state is free from the unique impact of mental and substance use disorders,” explained SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. “Data like these give states the information they can use to target their prevention and treatment activities for the greatest benefit to their residents.”
It’s disturbing, though, to think that so many teens and young adults are discounting the dangers associated with cigarette smoking. Perhaps the United States should think about taking a leaf out of Iceland’s book, and consider making cigarettes prescription-only.
Photo from Marco Gomes via flickr.