- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

Health officials are alarmed by an unexpectedly high rate of tobacco use among young girls worldwide, which they say is troubling for the future of chronic disease and smoking-related mortality.

A recent survey of 750,000 students — ages 13 to 15 — from 131 nations found that a long-existing gender gap in terms of smoking has narrowed.

Data from the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, a joint project of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “showed the same level of smoking prevalence [among boys and girls] everywhere,” Charles W. Warren of the CDC’s Office of Smoking and Health said Friday.

According to the report, results of previous studies have suggested that men are four times more likely than women to smoke, but Mr. Warren noted that, in many nations and regions, young girls are “smoking at higher rates than adult females” and so are rivaling boys in tobacco consumption.

An article on the survey findings was published Friday in the Lancet, a British medical journal.

“Our findings suggest that the sex differences in cigarette smoking and other tobacco use has changed,” the researchers wrote.

The journal published the survey a week after an analysis of data from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that teenage girls in the United States are exceeding boys in smoking and prescription drug abuse. The data showed that, for the past two years, more girls than boys started using cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana.

“Right now, the level of smoking by 13-to-15-year-olds in the United States is relatively high, compared with other places,” said Mr. Warren, the primary author of the report in The Lancet.

Though the proportion of smokers that age is about 10 percent worldwide, Mr. Warren said it’s about 17 percent for young teens in this country and for those in Europe and South America.

“Tobacco use is a major worldwide contribution to deaths from chronic diseases, and findings from the [Global Youth Tobacco Survey] suggest current dire warnings that the annual death toll will double to 10 million by 2020 may be a conservative estimate,” Mr. Warren said.

“Our findings are troubling for the future of chronic disease and tobacco-related mortality. Reduction of tobacco consumption will require a redoubling of efforts to prevent initiation and promote cessation among the large proportion of young people who currently use tobacco,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers also were concerned about findings that showed at least half of young teens are exposed to secondhand smoke, both at home and in public places. They said the “high exposure to secondhand smoke suggests a need for countries to pass strong and effective smoke-free policies.”

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