Teen-age smoking has dropped sharply over the past five years, particularly among boys, according to new figures released yesterday by Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano Jr., an arch-foe of smoking.
Califano, in a San Francisco speech to the Youth Conference of the National Inter-agency Council on Smoking and Health, said the percentage of smokers of both sexes dropped from 15.6 percent of all teen-agers (ages 12 to 18) in 1974 to 11.7 percent in 1979.
The first large survey since 1974 showed that teen girls, with a 12.7 percent rate (1.7 million girls) now for the first time outnumber teen boys as smokers (10.7 percent and 1.6 million boys).
This is because the reduction in smoking has been much greater among boys.
Jubilantly declaring that "the overall news is good," Califano renewed his antismoking campaign with a plea to teen-age girls to stop smoking.
He also challenged the tobacco industry to put $80 million a year from its advertising budget into a no-smoking campaign for teen-agers.
He said that despite the good news in the overall figures, one category of teeners did increase its smoking rate-girls of 17-18 whose smoking rate went up by 0.3 of a percent to 26.2 percent.
"The experts tell us that in roughly four years, lung cancer will surpass breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths among women, largely due to smoking," Califano said.
He said there is evidence that cigarette smoking is now a major "risk factor for heart attacks and sudden cardiac death among women as well as men."
Addressing a plea to girls and young women, Califano said, "Please, if you some-day want to have a healthy baby, don't smoke." He said evidence shows that "smoking during pregnancy can do significant harm to an unborn baby or a newborn" by causing birth defects and the like.
Califano said tobacco companies spend $1.8 billion worldwide and $800 million in the United States on advertising to promote smoking, but company officials had told him they are "against promoting cigarettes to persons under 21 years of age."
Therefore, said Califano, he is writing to the companies "urging that they commit 10 percent of their vast advertising budgets to a special public service advertising campaign: a campaign to convince children and teen-agers that they should not smoke."
A spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, an industry group, said, "One teen smoker, whether it's pot or tobacco, is one too many. One teen drinker is too many. But Mr. Califano isn't going to help solve these questions with his tunnel vision and reckless use of data . . .
"Tobacco executives will, I am sure, give his message today every bit of attention it deserves but what can we really rely upon when such a high official is so totally blinded to facts and priorities by his personal zealotry and fanaticism?"
Califano said about one-third of the nations 54 million smokers tried to quit last year but only 3.5 million succeeded.
Califano said the new statistics on teen smoking, as well as overall figures for adults released in January, are much more encouraging for men than women.
For example, from 1964 to 1979, the percentage of adult males smoking dropped from 53 to 37.5 percent, but the percentage of smokers among adult women was virtually unchanged at just under 30 percent.
The figures for teen smoking show much sharper drops among boys than girls.(TABLE) Age(COLUMN)Sex(COLUMN)1974 %(COLUMN)1979 % 12-14(COLUMN)male(COLUMN)4.2(COLUMN)3.2 (COLUMN)female(COLUMN)4.9(COLUMN)4.3 15-16(COLUMN)male(COLUMN)18.1(COLUMN)13.5 (COLUMN)female(COLUMN)20.2(COLUMN)11.8 17-18(COLUMN)male(COLUMN)31.0(COLUMN)19.3 (COLUMN)female(COLUMN)25.9(COLUMN)26.2 All teens(COLUMN)male(COLUMN)15.8(COLUMN)10.7 (COLUMN)female(COLUMN)15.3(COLUMN)12.7 (COLUMN)(Both sexes)(COLUMN)15.6(COLUMN)11.7(END TABLE)