Most adults know that smoking’s unhealthy, but experts say that fewer tweens and teens are getting the message these days. 

According to the CDC, the number of young smokers had been dropping steadily until recently, now it’s holding steady. And about 1 in 14 middle school kids, and 1 in 4 high schoolers, smoke. Why? 

  • First: There are fewer anti-smoking ads. Anti-tobacco ads consistently reduce smoking rates. But once the recession hit, budget cuts drastically reduced state spending and even though $650 million worth of ads appeared on TV, the Internet, and in magazines, that’s still less than 20 percent of what’s needed to effectively get kids to avoid tobacco products. 

  • Another reason teen smoking is up: No graphic labels. Studies show that the Surgeon General’s typewritten warning labels on cigarette packs don’t discourage smoking, but horrible images do. So, the FDA pushed to require graphic cancer pictures on cigarette packs, but the tobacco industry blocked that legislation. And without the shock value of disturbing pictures, young smokers are still lighting up.     

  • Finally: Anti-smoking activists were able to ban the flavored cigarettes that appeal to teens, but manufacturers can still make flavored cigars, chewing tobacco, and pipe tobacco. So, companies have been rolling out enticing new flavors, like peach, apple and chocolate. And even though overall cigarette use has dropped 33 percent, fun flavors have helped sales of cigars, pipe tobacco and smokeless tobacco jump 123 percent.