Teen smoking rates have declined in the last 2 decades, however health complaints from those who remain smokers have risen, according to findings from a new analysis of the Health Behavior in School-aged Children survey. Findings from the study were published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research

This rolling survey includes data from 43 countries among 11-, 13- and 15-year-olds questioned every 4 years. For this study, the researchers focused on smoking behavior and health issues in Norway alone. Norway was chosen as the rate of smokers dropped significantly in this country and the researchers hypothesized that more could be gleaned from studying this population. 

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Results showed significant correlations between health complaints and smoking status by year. During the most dramatic years of daily smoking declines (2001/2002–2005/2006), daily smokers experienced increases in health complaints while no increases were noted in the intermittent and non-smoker groups. The size of mean differences (using a year as a unit of analysis) in total complaints between daily smokers and intermittent/non-smokers was significantly negatively correlated with daily smoking prevalence (-0.963; P<0.01).

The level of complaints was higher for girls than boys, suggesting that girls might be at higher risk of having health problems associated with smoking.

The authors of the study suspect that reducing smoking rates even further (to the single digits), will be very challenging. Teens who smoke due to health problems, psychological and physical, may find it harder to quit than those who start smoking due to peer pressure. “A ‘stop smoking’ media campaign probably won’t be enough [to convince this population to quit],” said Marc Braverman, lead author and professor at the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State.

To the author’s knowledge, the contrasted finding of decreasing rates and increasing health complaints has not been previously reported. They conclude that young smokers may need counseling and support to help them quit.

For more information visit oxfordjournals.org.