Chicago Youth Cigarette Use Hits Historic Low

Respiratory Health Association joined with other patient advocacy organizations in congratulating the City of Chicago on its announcement that cigarette smoking by high school students in Chicago is at an all-time low. According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 6 percent of Chicago high school students reported current cigarette smoking in 2017 – a 56 percent decline from 2011.

graph showing youth smoking rates in Chicago in 2011 compared to 2016

Since 2011 the Chicago youth cigarette smoking rate has declined from 13.6% to just 6%.

In Chicago, the decline in youth cigarette smoking represents nearly 7,000 fewer teen smokers and an estimated $100 million in long-term health care savings.

Chicago has been recognized as a national leader in tobacco control. Key efforts include:


  • The nation’s strongest smoke-free ordinance in 2006
  • A prestigious $11.5 million tobacco control grant from the CDC in 2009
  • The nation’s first flavored tobacco regulation inclusive of menthol cigarettes in 2013
  • The nation’s second e-cigarette ordinance in 2014
  • Expansive smoke-free parks ordinance in 2014
  • Establishing the nation’s highest tobacco unit price, and
  • A comprehensive youth tobacco prevention package including Tobacco 21 in 2016.


RHA was a local leader in the advocacy efforts leading to the adoption of these policies, including Tobacco 21, in Chicago.

“Chicago continues to lead the fight against tobacco. We’re encouraged by the data because it demonstrates that our collective efforts are successful in building a tobacco-free generation,” said Joel Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer of Respiratory Health Association and Healthy Chicago community co-leader for tobacco control. “More work remains to be done to prevent the use of other tobacco products,” he added, “including cigars, electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.”

Healthy Chicago is the citywide plan to improve health equity, launched by Mayor Emanuel and Chicago Department of Public Health. Respiratory Health Association serves as Healthy Chicago’s community co-chair for tobacco control and offers evidence-based tobacco control strategies and smoking cessation programs.

Building on Chicago’s success, RHA is now advocating for statewide adoption of Tobacco 21 in Illinois.

Contact us for more information on how you can support Tobacco 21.