Teen Angst

Clinton declares war on teen smoking.


To combat what he callls "an epidemic among our children," President Clinton announced sweeping new regulations on cigarettes and tobacco products. The goal: to reverse an apparent increase in cigarette smoking among teenagers. The new policies include a ban on all cigarette vending machines, limiting tobacco advertisements to black-and-white text in magazines with significant underage readership, and a ban on outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of a school or playground. Clinton says he wants to reduce teen smoking by 50 percent in seven years.

According to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 31.2 percent of high school seniors said they had smoked in the previous 30 days, up from 27.8 percent in 1992. But that is still far below the 1979 level of 34.4 percent.

Clinton blamed tobacco advertisements such as the Joe Camel campaign for the recent increase. Between 1988 and 1991, Camel's market share among teens did rise from 0.5 percent to 33 percent. During that period, however, smoking among teens fell.

Evidence suggests that there may be broader social forces at work. Teens are also using illegal drugs, particularly marijuana, in larger numbers. Lynn Zimmer, professor of sociology at Queens College, says there may be a limit to what the government can do. "[Public health officials] always walk a fine line between how much they can discourage smoking before teenagers rebel," says Zimmer.

That line may already have been crossed. Zimmer points out that today's teens have been exposed to more antismoking educational campaigns and restrictions than any other generation, yet these teens are smoking more. Clinton's get-tough policies, she says, may end up backfiring.