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U.S. teenagers smoke less, but texting while driving a concern: CDC

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Fewer U.S. teenagers are smoking cigarettes, fighting or having sex, but texting while driving is prevalent among high school students, according to a survey released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday.

In 2013, 15.7 percent of teenagers reported smoking cigarettes, the lowest rate recorded since the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey began in 1991, the CDC said.

But more than 40 percent of students who had driven a car in the previous 30 days said they sent text messages or emails while driving, putting themselves and others on roadways at risk, health officials said.

Last year's survey was the first to collect such data on texting and emailing while driving.

Health officials said they were encouraged by the drop in teen smoking but worried that the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes could offset gains made by anti-smoking campaigns.

"We're particularly concerned about e-cigarettes re-glamorizing smoking traditional cigarettes and maybe making it more complicated to enforce smoke-free laws that protect all non-smokers," said CDC Director Tom Frieden.

In the 1991 survey, 27.5 percent of high school students said they smoked cigarettes. The rate increased to 36.4 percent in 1997 before beginning a steady decline, the CDC said. In 2011, 18.1 percent of teenagers reported smoking.

The rate of students using smokeless tobacco increased from 7.7 percent in 2011 to 8.8 percent in 2013, the CDC said.

In response to the survey, anti-smoking advocates urged federal regulators to ban the marketing of all tobacco products to children.

"These survey results are a powerful reminder that the fight against tobacco is an entirely winnable battle, but the job is still far from done," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The CDC survey showed the percentage of students who reported ever having sexual intercourse dropped slightly from 47.4 percent in 2011 to 46.8 percent in 2013.

Fighting also declined, the survey showed. In 2013, 24.7 percent of students reported having been in a physical fight at least once during the prior 12 months, down from 32.8 percent in 2011.

The CDC report did not give a breakdown by age but surveyed teens in grades nine through 12.

(Reporting by David Beasley; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Eric Beech and Diane Craft)

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