RICHMOND (AP) -- A statewide effort to reduce smoking among Virginia youths is paying off, reaching the lowest levels in a decade.

According to the Virginia Youth Tobacco Survey released Thursday, 3 percent of middle school students smoked regularly during the 2011-2012 school year. That's down 70 percent from 2001, when the rate was 10.6 percent.

During the same period, the rate for high school students fell from 28.6 percent to 13 percent, a decline of more than 55 percent.

Gov. Bob McDonnell and Health and Human Resources Secretary Dr. Bill Hazel attributed the declining rates to efforts by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth' to reduce youth smoking.

'We are thrilled that tobacco use among Virginia's youth continues to be on the decline,' said VFHY Executive Director Marty Kilgore. 'The Virginia Youth Tobacco Survey results show that tobacco prevention works, and that Virginia's kids are choosing healthy lifestyles. However, because new students are constantly reaching the at-risk age for becoming regular smokers, we must remain vigilant.'

The Virginia Youth Tobacco Survey was conducted in cooperation with Virginia Commonwealth University's Survey and Evaluation Research Laboratory.

AP-WF-01-17-13 1536GMT

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