Objective: To examine decreases over time in cigarette smoking prevalence and intensity among American students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades.
Methods: Data from Monitoring the Future on students' smoking, across four measures of differing intensity of smoking, are compared over time and across grade levels. Data are available since 1975 for 12th graders and since 1991 for 8th and 10th graders.
Results: For all three grade levels, all four measures decreased substantially. The decreases became larger as the measures moved from least to most intensive (respectively, lifetime (ever) smoking and ≥ 1/2 pack of cigarettes per day). Decreases exceeded three-quarters for every grade for the two most intensive measures of smoking: daily smoking and ≥ 1/2 pack per day. For every measure, 8th graders' percentage decreases were the largest and 12th graders' the smallest. 12th graders' absolute (percentage-point) decreases were the largest for every measure.
Conclusion: Cigarette smoking, the most dangerous form of tobacco use, has decreased dramatically among American students. The fact that decreases are larger for more intensive measures of smoking indicates that simply tracking 30-day prevalence, often labeled "current smoking," significantly understates the decrease in youth smoking over time.
Keywords: Adolescent health; Cigarette smoking; Tobacco surveillance.