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Teen smoking sees dramatic drop in Chicago

The number of Chicago young people who smoke has dropped dramatically over the last 12 years with a little more than ten percent of the city's high school students admitting to lighting up last year, according to the American Lung Association.
April 15, 2014 2:54:39 PM PDT
The number of Chicago young people who smoke has dropped dramatically over the last 12 years with a little more than ten percent of the city's high school students admitting to lighting up last year, according to the American Lung Association.

During a month when he's recommended a tax increase after a weekend of resurgent street violence, Mayor Rahm Emanuel needed a win. The National Centers for Disease Control reports that teen smoking in Chicago is down dramatically.

It is hard to find cigarette smokers these days among the teenagers trolling Chicago's Navy Pier during spring break.

"I don't see the point of smoking at all," said student Aidan Vartla. "It kind of weakens your lungs and everything."

"I think it's absolutely disgusting and the worst habit you can have," student Janina Liskowiecki said.

"I know it's bad," said student Alphonso Villanueva. "I never tried it. I don't want to."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is releasing its teen smoking statistic city by city and Chicago's numbers released Tuesday were stunning: While one in four Chicago Public School students smoked cigarettes in 2001, in 2013, only one in ten smoked.

"Our youth smoked at a lower rate than the Illinois numbers and a lower rate than the national number. So we're really happy about that," said Chicago Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, an anti-smoking crusader of sorts, hopes the tobacco companies are getting a message.

"Our kids are not part of your bottom line," Emanuel said. "They're part of our bottom line and their health is our most important asset."

City, county and state tax increases have raised the per pack cigarette price in Chicago helping discourage teen purchases.

"Like a lot of money that you're wasting on something that's killing you and making you weaker," Vartla said.

And city officials say more recent crackdowns on flavored tobacco and newer e-cigarettes have also protected young people.

"Everybody's been consistent sending one, unambiguous message: You have to be tobacco-free," Emanuel said.

The mayor's office is especially proud that teen smoking rates have dropped 20 percent since Emanuel was inaugurated in 2011.

The mayor says the success here is being recognized around the county as other cities have inquired about Chicago's anti-smoking effort.