PITTSFIELD -- Tobacco use is up among Berkshire County teens -- and it's not all from smoking.
The percentage of teenagers using chewing tobacco has increased 1.4 points since 2009, according to the 2013 Berkshire County report of results of the Massachusetts Prevention Needs Assessment Survey. The survey is distributed to eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders every two years.
It prompts students to self-report their use of various substances and risky behaviors, such as gambling or fighting, as well as their perceptions of the existence of prosocial support and engagement in their community.
In terms of using substances, like tobacco, the survey takes inventory of whether a student has ever used a controlled substance in their life, and whether a student has used a substance during the past 30 days from the time they are taking the survey.
Overall, 30-day cigarette use increased from 10.7 percent in 2011 to 12.3 percent this year. In 2009, 13.1 percent of Berkshire County students had smoked cigarettes within 30 days.
Nationally, 11.7 percent of teens reported smoking cigarettes within 30 days In 2011.
Since the 2009 and 2011 surveys, the percentages of teens use of chewing/smokeless tobacco products in 30 days have gone up. In 2009, 4.4 percent of students used chewing tobacco. In 2011, 5.3 percent used it. This year, 5.8 percent of local students reported using chewing tobacco within 30 days of the survey.
Nationally, 5.9 percent of teens reported using chewing tobacco within 30 days in 2011.
Despite these trends the majority of Berkshire County students who took the survey also reported they know smoking is harmful and that their parents and friends are likely to disapprove of tobacco use.
"It's a tough battle, especially when you're dealing with big money and strategies of the tobacco companies," said Shelley Brooks, during the recent Berkshire Youth Workers Summit.
Brooks is the program coordinator for the CHP-South Berkshire Community Coalition in Great Barrington, an organization dedicated to addressing risk and protective factors that affect alcohol, tobacco and drug use in youth and other residents.
Joan Rubel of the Berkshire Area Health Education Center (AHEC) shared with a group several pages of ads promoting newer tobacco products, like electronic or e-cigarettes and hookah cigarettes.
Each image presented a younger-looking adult with a lean, stylish, sexy look, and the product in their hand or near their lips.
Rubel, who leads the Berkshire Tobacco-Free Community Partnership, said young people often take information about a substance at face value versus thinking about long-term effects.
"But we can help educate them and hope they make better decisions," she said.