Cigarette smoking among high school students fell by 17 percent between 1991 and 2015.
Current cigarette use was reported by 11 percent of high school students in 2015. This is a significant decrease from the 28 percent recorded in 1991.
The information comes from the results of the 2015 edition of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The YRBS was first introduced in 1991 to collect information on student behaviors that could pose a risk to health.
"Health risk behaviors among youth vary over time and across the nation, making the YRBS an important tool to better understand youth," explains Laura Kann, Ph.D., chief of the CDC's School-Based Surveillance Branch.
"The YRBS helps us identify newly emerging behaviors and monitor long-standing youth risk behaviors over time," she adds.
A significant fall in cigarette use among high school students can only be good news. According to the CDC, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. In the United States, cigarette smoking is responsible for over 480,000 deaths per year.
While cigarette smoking has fallen among high school students, the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) has risen. The survey results reveal that 24 percent of high school students stated they had used e-cigarettes during the past 30 days.
The CDC class e-cigarettes as tobacco products and using them as a risky behavior. As a result, these findings remain a concern for them.
"Current cigarette smoking is at an all-time low, which is great news," states Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. "However, it's troubling to see that students are engaging in new risk behaviors, such as using e-cigarettes."
"We must continue to invest in programs that help reduce all forms of tobacco use, including e-cigarettes, among youth," he adds.
It may be that students are avoiding traditional cigarettes in favor of e-cigarettes. Earlier in the year, a joint report from the CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested that tobacco use in youths had remained stable since 2011.
Things could change over the next few months, however. Last month, the FDA passed a new rule that restricts the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
Texting and emailing while driving remains a risk
Elsewhere in the survey results, the researchers observed a fall in fighting among high school students. A total of 23 percent of students reported having been in a physical fight over the past 12 months in 2015, compared with 42 percent in 1991.
Soda appears to be less popular among high school students. The number who reported drinking soda one or more times a day fell from 27 percent in 2013 to 20 percent in 2015.
Prescription drug use among youth fell from 20 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2015. Sexual activity, defined as having had intercourse in the past 3 months, also fell from 38 percent in 1991 to 30 percent in 2015.
However, condom use among sexually active youth fell slightly, dropping from 59 percent in 2013 to 57 percent in 2015.
Another significant finding is that a large number of high school students continue to put others at risk by using wireless devices while driving. Across 35 states, the number of students who had texted or emailed while driving ranged from 26 to 63 percent.
Overall, the number of students who had texted or emailed while driving during the past 30 days was 42 percent. This figure had not changed from 2013.
The number of students playing video and computer games also rose significantly. The number rose from 22 percent in 2003 to 42 percent in 2015.
"While overall trends for the 2015 report are positive, the results highlight the continued need for improvements in reducing risks among teens," Kann concludes.