"People keep saying teen smoking is going up, but it's not," Dr. Dorothy Green was saying.
Dr. Green ought to know. A psychologist, she has, as she puts it, "been in the smoking business since 1967." Currently a free-lance behaviorist, she headed the program-research group of the National Clearing Housing for Smoking and Health, and she still does major smoking surveys for government agencies.
Her latest, to be released soon by the National Institute of Education, was conducted on teen smoking last year. Part was a follow-up -- the first since the surveys began in 1964 -- on teens interviewed five years ago.
One of her findings: The misconception about teen smoking being on the upswing was, in its own way, actually helping to perpetuate it.
Teens -- those between the ages of 12 and 18 -- are hearing the message: "Oh, isn't it terrible, all that teen-age smoking . . ." only they read it: "Well, if everybody is doing it, what's wrong with me since I don't."
Dr. Green's survey found that when teens are asked how many of their peers are smokers, most guess about three out of four. (It is only about one in 12.)
Even though the cigarette companies may be selling more cigarettes, Green says, "It's because the population has increased in the age groups that smoke.
"We're misreading the cues. We say there's more smoking than ever when actually fewer are smoking."
The smoking surveys of the American population have not, as a rule, broken down cigarette smoking on a racial basis, mainly because the sample would be too small. However, there are those who feel that even though smoking may be declining among teens as a whole, it seems to be showing no signs, for example, of decreasing among black teens. (Although those who support this theory admit it is based more on intuition than statistics.)
Less Butler, communications coordinator for the Howard University-Georgetown University Comprehensive Cancer Center, sees that anti-smoking campaign among minorities as a losing fight against "the tobacco industry . . . it's a little too big." Nor can he explain why filter-tip Kools are the "in" cigarette "among young black males in most major cities on the East Coast, like Washington, New York and Philadelphia."
A spokesman at Brown and Williamson, Kool's manufacturer, confirms that "Kool is popular among blacks . . . and the company increased it's advertising aimed at blacks after we discovered its popularity."
He said, however, that the company is careful to use models clearly over 25 years old, and often cool scenes (lakes, waterfalls, icebergs) are used instead of models. (The Kool ad in the November Ebony magazine, one of eight full-page ads for one cigarette or another half of them for menthols, has both: fa young, but not too young, couple in front if a fountain.) Full-page ads in Ebony run from about $18,000 to about $24,000.
The B&W spokesman says sure, they are not to get customers away from other cigarettes, but the company makes a conscious effort not to encourage young people to start . . .
What is really remarkable, Dr. Green says, is the change in attitudes toward smoking over the past decade or so.
"I've been in attitude research all my life, and I've never seen attitudes change as drastically as these have . . ."
"People are talking about banning cigarettes in public places; they never did that before.
"People are talking about banning all cigarette advertising -- never mind all cigarette advertising -- never mind all the little magazines that would go under . . .
"Even people who smoke admit they are annoyed sometimes by other smokers.
"Even," she says, "even teen-agers who smoke will now say something like 'I've got a right to be myself, but I've got no right to take up other people's air space.'"
The follow-up survey -- of about 1,300 or a bit more than half of the teens interviewed five years before -- confirmed some feelings psychologists had about why youngsters start to smoke in the first place:
Children do what their parents do. "If everybody in the family drinks coffee, the teen-ager grows up drinking coffee. If the parents or an older brother or sister smoke, what do you do when you get to be 14 years old?You smoke."
Youngsters gravitate to others who share their same sense of adventure or caution, likes or dislikes. Dr. Green feels it is not "peer pressure," but rather a natural grouping of the smokers (and the drug takers and the drinkers).
Youngsters who predicted five years ago that they would "most likely" be smoking, turned out to be most likely smoking and those who said they wouldn't be smoking in five years . . . don't.
"People," says Green, "do not make a decision 'I will be a smoker,' any more than a person makes a decision 'I will be an alcoholic,' or 'I am going to eat a lot and get fat.' You drift into these things."
The trick is to catch teen-agers at the crucial point and change the drift away from smoking.
"We know we're getting to them," Green says, "but we don't know exactly which of the many things we've told them got to them."
Sorrel Caplan, spokesman for the Lung Association, is part of a nationwide mobilization to "raise a smoke-free generation."
Some $10,000,000 million, she says, has been earmarked by the office of Smoking and Health for the 1980 effort, largely for Tv and radio spots.
Also, educator are, says Caplan, "taking the tack now, with all the emphasis on sports and good health, that 'you want to be able to run, to jump and play tennis and you don't want to be short of breath, now do you?"
At a recent teacher workshop in a Fairfax County high school, sponsored by the lung associations of D.C., Maryland and Virginia, there were demonstrations of the kind of student-to-student techniques that the don't-smokers hope will convince youngsters that smoking simply isn't "in."
Included was a hit musical puppet. show featuring this cheerful ditty:
"Cough, cough, I keep on doint it/cough, cough, after I'm running/cough, cough/I've got the Cigarette Blues/(cought, cough)/woe is me/I've got the cigarette blues . . ." CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, Copyright (c) 1977, American Heart Association