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OBJECTIVE—To define US national sex specific rates of smoking initiation among Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, and African American adolescents aged 12-17 years for each calendar year from 1940 through 1992.
METHODS—Adult survey data from the tobacco use supplement of the Current Population Survey in 1992-93 and 1995-96 were used to reconstruct the age at which individuals began to smoke and the calendar year in which they were that age. From these data, the number of individuals who began a calendar year as never smokers and who were aged 12-17 years during that year could be estimated and formed the denominator of the initiation rate. The number of these individuals who reported taking up smoking during that year formed the numerator of the initiation rate.
RESULTS—Initiation rates among male adolescents in each of the three racial/ethnic groups have declined since 1945. However, since 1983, initiation rates among male adolescents overall have increased. Non-Hispanic white male adolescents generally initiated cigarette smoking at higher rates than Hispanic or African American male adolescents. Initiation rates among Hispanic male adolescents have not been statistically different from initiation rates among African American male adolescents. From 1978 to 1982, initiation rates among Hispanic and African American male adolescents experienced a sharp decline, and the rate of decline was steeper than that experienced by non-Hispanic white male adolescents. Initiation rates among female adolescents have increased since 1940, catching up to male adolescent initiation rates by the mid 1970s. Initiation rates among female adolescents appeared to level off or increased slightly again from the mid 1980s to 1990. Non-Hispanic white female adolescents generally initiate cigarette smoking at higher rates than Hispanic or African American female adolescents. Initiation rates among non-Hispanic white and African American female adolescents equalled the initiation rates of their male counterparts by the mid 1970s, but initiation rates among Hispanic female adolescents did not overlap with initiation rates of Hispanic male adolescents until 1990. From 1975 to 1980, initiation rates among African American female adolescents decreased sharply, but, unlike initiation rates among the two other ethnic groups, rates continued to decline from 1984 to 1990.
CONCLUSIONS—Different patterns of increasing and decreasing smoking initiation among sex and ethnic adolescent groups suggest the effect of varying social and cultural influences. These findings support the importance of including ethnic factors in studies of smoking behaviour.
Keywords: smoking initiation; adolescents; ethnic groups