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By La Poasa

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (September 21, 2000 - Samoa News/PINA Nius Online)---A Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) conducted by American Samoa's Department of Education has found that "over 30% of students began smoking before the age of 13."

Of the 2,500 grade 7-12 students who were surveyed, nearly three out of four high school students have smoked cigarettes and over 40% are regular smokers.

Drug Free Program Manager Benjamin Tili said that "it is very alarming" to think that students are smoking as early as 10 or 11 years old.

He added that often times "people do not regard cigarettes as a drug because it is socially acceptable."

The "tobacco use in teens" was only a small portion of the 87-question survey that covered a wide range of issues, including alcohol and drug use, violence-related behavior and sexual behavior that may contribute to leading causes of health and social problems in youths.

The standardized national YRBS survey was developed by the Centers for Disease Control’s Division of Adolescent and School Health in partnership with 71 state and local departments of education and 19 federal agencies.

YRBS has been administered since 1996 by the DOE’s Physical and Health Education Coordinator Jeff Chun with the assistance of the Drug Free Program.

Tili said that the results of the 1999-2000 YRBS have geared the Drug Free Program’s attention to focus more on students at the elementary levels for the new 2000-2001 school year.

He said that during the 1999-2000 school year, of the 816 student referrals to the Drug Free Program, 225 cases involved students caught smoking on school grounds, while nine were from the elementary schools.

Tili warned that the numbers of students smoking at school could possibly be higher as there were fewer Drug Free specialists in schools during the last school year.

Additionally, he said, cases not reported (but handled directly by school officials) tend to distort the numbers.

For this new school year, four additional Drug Free specialists are now joining the seven specialists from the last school year in targeting smoking, drug-use, excessive absences and other problems in the public schools.

The newly reinforced truancy program is also helping to eliminate these types of problems in the public schools. The truancy officers follow up on student cases and do home visits when problems need parental attention.

DOE Director Dr. Sili K. Sataua said that student smoking is among many other problems affecting the student population, and these problems cannot be solved by the schools alone.

He pointed out that as school officials are trying to enforce DOE policies in schools, parents should be checking on what activities their children are engaged in while at home.

He added that the problem is heavily burdened by the fact that local vendors do not card youthful consumers often, thus making it very easy for the youths to purchase a pack of cigarettes.

"These numbers speak for themselves and should not be taken lightly," said Dr. Sataua.

The DOE Director said that the general public can help by reporting any students who are smoking at the Market Place or in the aiga buses.

"The problems that our children face can be solved by the community as a whole. The Department of Education can only do a portion of that job," said Dr. Sataua.

Tobacco Use Prevention

This same survey is being used by the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program of the Department of Health to determine where teenagers are at in terms of tobacco use.

Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program Coordinator John Jennings said that their program will be conducting a Youth Tobacco Survey (YTS) in November, which will be the first survey specifically geared to tobacco use in teens.

YTS is also developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jennings said that their program hopes to submit legislation which will ban smoking on public transportation, where students generally do most of their smoking.

According to Jennings, the survey will be used as a base line to help the program evaluate the activities of the local youth, as there is hardly any data at present that really explains where the teens are in terms of tobacco use.

He added that the program also has received, in its second-year funding, a mini-grant of $3,000 earmarked for high school awareness activities.

Jennings said that for this school year, each high school will submit a proposal to his office on what type of plan the school will implement in order to have a smoke-free school campus. Three high schools will win and be awarded $1,000 each to implement their school programs.

He said that if the mini-grant is successful for this year, there is hope that the grant for student activities will increase to include more than three school awards and hopefully to begin a program for the elementary levels.

The Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program is a newly established federally funded program of the Department of Health. The program’s main goals are to provide tobacco awareness information and prevent smoking by youths and adults.

Items from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

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