AUGUSTA, Maine — Rates of youth smoking in Maine have increased for the first time in more than a decade, according to a new report released Tuesday by the American Lung Association. The State of Tobacco Control 2009 report shows that between 2007 and 2008, self-reported rates of smoking in Maine adolescents and teens rose from 14 percent to more than 18 percent, which is the first increase since 1997, when the rate was more than 39 percent.
The annual national report draws on a variety of federal and state data, including the Maine Youth Behavioral Risk Survey, a behavior questionnaire distributed every other year to public school students in grades nine through 12.
Ed Miller of the Maine chapter of the American Lung Association said the increase in youth smoking is significant and reflects a slowing of tax increases on tobacco products in recent years.
“Raising the price of a pack of cigarettes is the single most rapid and most effective way to decrease smoking rates,” Miller said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Between 2005 and 2008, the average price of a pack of cigarettes rose only slightly, from $5.05 to $5.52. During the same period, youth smoking dropped from 16.2 percent to 14 percent, then jumped to 18.1 percent, according to the report.
By contrast, youth smoking declined from almost 25 percent to 20.5 percent between 2001 and 2005, when the price of a pack of cigarettes rose steadily from $3.53 to $5.05.
“People adjust to the price,” Miller said.
The report was critical of a decrease in per-capita spending on smoking prevention and cessation in Maine from 2007 to 2009 in relation to spending recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday that public health spending for smoking prevention and cessation in recent years has been “diluted” by the need to counteract rising rates of obesity and substance abuse.
“We’re trying to do more with less,” Mills said. “Now we’re seeing the results.” Mills said the state will need to make some hard decisions about the most effective way to spend available public health dollars.
The report also pointed out that state employees and Medicaid recipients encounter barriers to kicking the tobacco habit in the form of out-of-pocket costs for medication and counseling, and that Maine’s regulation of private health insurance companies does not include a mandate that they cover cessation.
Maine was lauded in the report for enacting laws in 2009 that protect the public against exposure to secondhand smoke, including bans on smoking in outdoor restaurants and at state-run beaches.
The report also praised a prohibition against the home delivery of tobacco products purchased on the Internet, saying it helps protect underage consumers from purchasing cigarettes and other tobacco products.
On the Web: www.lungusa.org