Detroit teens smoke less than other cities, report says

Charles E. Ramirez, and Evan Carter

Detroit teens, it seems, think tobacco is wacko and smoke less than their counterparts in 12 other U.S. cities.

An estimated 3.4 percent of Detroit teenagers smoke cigarettes, according to survey data analyzed by a coalition of U.S. city health departments. That compares with the national average of 15.7 percent, according to the Big Cities Health Coalition.

Cass Tech freshman Sage Staten, 14, of Detroit said she doesn’t smoke.

“Personally, cigarettes are nasty to me,” she said. “I don’t like the smell; I don’t like what it does. And we’ve been hearing (smoking is) bad since middle school.”

The Big Cities Health Coalition released its findings this week to recognize World No Tobacco Day, which was Tuesday.

“It’s a very interesting success story,” said Chrissie Juliano, the coalition’s director. “Obviously, there are a variety of challenges Detroit has seen in the past few years and the demographics of the city don’t suggest this. This very low teen smoking number really is a bright spot for Detroit.”

Based in Washington, D.C., the coalition is a forum for the leaders of the largest city health departments in the U.S. to exchange strategies and address issues to promote and protect people’s health and safety. It is also an independent project of the National Association of City and County Health Officials.

Abdul El-Sayed, executive director of the Detroit Health Department and the city’s health officer, said the coalition’s findings are surprising since research shows African-Americans are more likely to smoke than other ethnic groups and Detroit’s population is 85 percent African-American.

No one knows exactly why the numbers of teen smokers in Detroit is lower than other cities, but there may be several factors behind it, he said.

One may be that consumers in Detroit have to travel farther to buy tobacco products because there are fewer retailers here, El-Sayed said.

“That’s not to say they’re not available; they’re just a little bit less available,” he said. Another could be many Detroiters have lower disposable income than people in other cities and that limits access to cigarettes.

Regardless of the reasons, it’s good news that fewer Detroit teens are smoking cigarettes than in other cities, he said. “The reality is in a city like ours where we know our kids suffer from a number of diseases more commonly than in other cities, this is a great thing,” El-Sayed said. “It’s something to build off of.”

To determine the percentage of teen smokers, the coalition analyzed data from a 2013 Centers for Disease Control survey on cigarette-usage rates among high school students in 13 major U.S. cities. The survey is the latest on cigarette use.

Juliano said the survey asked questions such as “do you currently smoke cigarettes?” and “have you smoked a cigarette in the last month?”

However, it didn’t ask high school students whether they used electronic cigarettes or smoked marijuana, she said.

“Students could very well be smoking something other than cigarettes, like e-cigarettes,” Juliano said. “That’s a trend we’re seeing nationally — more youth are using other tobacco products like e-cigarettes or hookahs. They currently aren’t as regulated as cigarettes so there could be a shift there.”

Cass Tech freshman Aariyan Carter, 15, also of Detroit, said she thinks many teens smoke marijuana but not cigarettes.

“To high schoolers, weed is something to relieve stress,” she said.

Steve Jackson, 18, of Detroit, a Cass Tech senior, said he doesn’t smoke. “It’s bad for you,” he said. “And I’m an athlete.”

The community can’t slow down its anti-smoking efforts, Juliano said.

“This is not a time to stop, it’s a time to push the pedal down and make sure we don’t lose these gains.”

Percentage of teenage smokers

Baltimore: 7.0

Boston: 7.9

Chicago: 10.7

Denver: 11.0

Detroit: 3.4

Houston: 11.3

Las Vegas (Clark County): 7.8

Los Angeles: 6.7

Miami (Miami-Dade County): 7.5

New York: 8.2

Philadelphia: 7.5

San Antonio, TX (Bexar County): 11.3

Washington, D.C.: 15.7

U.S. Total: 15.7

Source: Big Cities Health Coalition