This study’s objective was to describe long-term trends and patterns in first cigarette use (cigarette initiation) and daily cigarette use (daily initiation) among youth and young adults in the U.S. We used cross-sectional survey data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2002–2015, to estimate annual incidence of first cigarette use (N = 270,556) and first daily cigarette use (N = 373,464) for each year by age groups, race/ethnicity and gender, examining trends over time and the average annual change in initiation for each group. Several clear patterns emerged: 1) cigarette initiation and daily initiation significantly decreased over time among those aged 12–14 and 15–17 and these trends were consistent among nearly all racial/ethnic and gender subgroups; 2) among 18–21 year olds, cigarette initiation sharply increased through 2009, surpassing rates among 15–17 year olds, and sharply declined through 2015 while remaining higher than rates among the younger group, and this trend was consistent for almost all racial/ethnic subgroups; 3) daily initiation for those aged 18–21 significantly declined, and this was significant among most subgroups 4) there was no change in cigarette initiation and daily initiation for 22–25 year olds overall and most subgroups; 5) there was a significant increase in cigarette initiation for 22–25 year old Hispanics males and daily initiation for 22–25 year old males. This study provides a comprehensive look at trends in cigarette and daily initiation among U.S. youth and young adults. Despite notable declines in smoking initiation among youth and young adult populations over the last two decades, targeted prevention and policy efforts are needed for subgroups at higher risk, including young adults and Hispanic males.
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