Long-Term Trends in Adolescent and Young Adult Smoking in the United States: Metapatterns and Implications

Objectives. We sought to describe long-term adolescent and young adult smoking trends and patterns. Methods. We analyzed adolescent data from Monitoring the Future, 1976 to 2005, and young adult (aged 18-24 years) data from the National Health Interview Survey, 1974 to 2005, overall and in subpopulations to identify trends in current cigarette smoking prevalence. Results. Five metapatterns emerged: we found (1) a large increase and subsequent decrease in overall smoking over the past 15 years, (2) a steep decline in smoking among Blacks through the early 1990s, (3) a gender gap reversal among older adolescents and young adults who smoked over the past 15 years, (4) similar trends in smoking for most subgroups since the early 1990s, and (5) a large decline in smoking among young adults with less than a high school education. Conclusions. Long-term patterns for adolescent and young adult cigarette smoking were decidedly nonlinear, and we found evidence of a cohort effect among young adults. Continued strong efforts and a long-term societal commitment to tobacco use prevention are needed, given the unprecedented declines in smoking among most subpopulations since the mid- to late 1990s.