the Future data strongly suggest that cigarette smoking is on the decline among high school seniors in the United States.
Unlike illicit substances, cigarette smoking is illegal only for youth under age 18, and many states have aggressive policies that penalize retailers who sell cigarettes to underage youth. Accordingly, the prevalence of cigarette smoking among high school seniors may not accurately reflect smoking behaviors in the total youth population. Indeed, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveals much higher prevalence rates among older youth and young adults (http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/nhsda).
Figure 7-5 presents the prevalence of any cigarette smoking during the past 30 days by detailed age categories for the total U.S. population. Prevalence rates increase sharply every year during the teens, rising from about 15 percent at age 15 to a peak of about 45 percent at ages 20 or 21. The rate then remains relatively flat until about age 23, when it begins declining, and it then declines steadily thereafter until it reaches a low of about 10 percent for persons 65 and over. Importantly for our purposes, the rate of cigarette smoking for young adults ages 20 to 22 is nearly double the rate for high school seniors.