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Smoking among ninth-graders in Erie County has dropped by 40 percent over the past five years, according to a survey by Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

In releasing the results Tuesday, hospital officials also noted that the 18 percent of ninth-graders in the county who smoke cigarettes compares favorably with the national rate of 28 percent.

The use of alcohol and other drugs also decreased or remained stable since Roswell Park's 1996 survey.

"Some of the results are very encouraging, but they are not encouraging across the board," and more needs to be done, said Dr. David C. Hohn, president and chief executive of Roswell Park.

The study surveyed 5,734 students, representing 48 percent of ninth-graders in the county. Results were compared with similar surveys conducted in 1992 and 1996.

The survey found smoking among ninth-graders had declined from 29 percent to 18 percent. The increase in state taxes on cigarettes and other anti-smoking legislation was credited with the decline, according to Andrew Hyland, a cancer research scientist at Roswell Park who conducted the study.

But, he pointed out, nationally 3,000 adolescents a day take up smoking, and eventually 1,000 of them will die from smoking-related causes.

While the proportion of youths who said they had used alcohol within the past 30 days decreased from 48 percent to 41 percent (identical to the national average), the percentage who said they had been drunk in that period increased from 22 to 29.

Whether that represents a trend or is an anomaly is something that will have to be watched, Hyland said.

Other findings:

Ninety-two percent of ninth-grade smokers reported that it was easy for them to obtain cigarettes, and 55 percent said they are rarely or never asked for proof of age at stores.

Ninety-five percent reported using one of the three most heavily advertised brands: Marlboro, Newport or Camel.

Smokers tended to use other drugs and were three times more likely to have consumed alcohol or been drunk in the past 30 days, 11 times more likely to be marijuana users and 25 times more likely to be users of other illegal drugs.

Use of marijuana in the previous 30 days decreased from 16 percent in 1996 to 14 percent.

The study was funded by a $35,000 grant obtained by State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville.


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