The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

2003 OPEN FORUM Abstracts

IMPORTANCE OF DEFINITIONS IN ESTIMATING THE PREVALENCE OF SMOKING BEHAVIOR IN ADOLESCENTS


Taft AA PhD RRT, Baker RR PhD RRT RPFT, Reyes J BS RRT-NPS, Hall CR MS RRT-NPS RPFT, Hernlen K MBA RRT, Dennison FH MEd RRT RPFT, Dias J PhD. Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, Georgia




Background:
Many studies have attempted to estimate the prevalence of smoking among teenagers. Commonly, teenagers are identified as smokers if they admit to having smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days. However, self-identification as a smoker may give a better indication of the prevalence of smoking behavior, especially the initiation of smoking behavior.

Methods:
All public schools in the 13 counties of the East Central Health District (ECHD) of Georgia were contacted for inclusion in this study. Of the 43 schools in the ECHD, 21 agreed to participate (10 middle schools, 10 high schools, and 1 combined school). Surveys were distributed to all students in those schools during January and February of 2001.

RESULTS:
10,714 surveys were completed and returned (out of a total enrollment of 18,289) for a 59.0% response rate. In middle school (grades 6-8), 2.1 times as many students identified themselves as "smokers" (14.4%) compared to those who reported smoking within the past month (6.7%). In high school (grades 9-12), 1.5 times as many students identified themselves as "smokers" (32.6%) compared to those who reported smoking within the past month (21.8%). Of interest, 10.4% of sixth graders reported that they smoke, but only 3.9% within the past month.

Conclusions:
Our data indicates that commonly used definitions of smoking may underestimate the magnitude of the problem. Because smoking behavior develops slowly over time, self-identification as a smoker may precede the development of frequent smoking behavior. The time gap between frequent smoking and adolescents identifying themselves as smokers offers an opportunity for intervention. Consequently, smoking prevention programs should target students at earlier grades.

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