Lighting Up

About one in five West Virginia high school students smokes cigarettes regularly. As bad as that sounds – and it is distressing – it is good news, in a way.

Results of the annual “youth tobacco survey” conducted by the state Department of Health and Human Resources indicate 18.6 percent of high school students are smokers. But the percentage has been reduced during the past several years, from 38.5 in 2000.

State officials credit better programs to educate young people about the dangers of using tobacco. “For the adults who have been smoking, when they started smoking it was the cool thing to do and nobody knew the health issues. But for our teens now, those messages have been out there and I think it’s really starting to take hold,” commented state health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Tierney.

She may be right, but only to an extent. The dangers of smoking were plain in 2000, yet more than one-third of high school students engaged in the practice.

Exactly why the number has decreased so substantially has implications in other areas of public health. For example, if teens can be convinced not to smoke, why are we having less success in other health programs geared to youths?

The number of teenagers who don’t understand the danger of lighting up is still far too high. But cutting the rate in half is good news, worth celebrating.

Now, let’s use information about how that success was achieved to slash the rate even more, and to tackle other health problems affecting young people.