Steve Chapman

No surprise there. Siegel says that teenagers smoke because they want to seem older. But smoking something that tastes like bubble gum sends the opposite signal. Even when flavored cigarettes were more widely available, the great majority of adolescent smokers found them about as appealing as a Raffi concert.

The government's figures on kids who start smoking are equally deceptive. When the assistant HHS secretary says 3,600 youngsters start smoking daily, he's not using those terms in the way most people would. I smoked a couple of cigarettes in my youth, but I never "started smoking," any more than I "started speaking Chinese" the one time I attended a Mandarin class.

It's true that 3,600 kids under the age of 17 try cigarettes for the first time every day, but that doesn't mean they will all become nicotine junkies. Many if not most of the experimenters soon lose interest. By the government's own account, only about 1,000 teens each day become daily smokers. For a lot of adolescents who "start smoking," there is no cycle of addiction to break, because they manage to avoid addiction on their own.

Lost in the government's propaganda is that if the tobacco companies are trying to recruit kids into smoking, they are doing a very poor job at it. Last year, the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future Survey found that smoking among high school seniors is at the lowest level in the 33 years the project has been keeping track. Among 8th graders, tobacco use is down by two-thirds since the mid-1990s; among 12th-graders, smoking rates have fallen by nearly half. Only 11 percent of 12th-graders smoke every day.

It would be a good thing for adolescent health, of course, if none of them did. Maybe that will happen eventually, but banning sweet cigarettes isn't likely to speed the day.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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