Seven percent of Utah's teenagers are regular smokers, and of them 79 percent began the habit by age 13, a statewide survey shows.

In releasing the results, the Utah Department of Health said the survey shows that the teen smoking problem isn't going away. Compared to a similar 1984 survey, the figures were virtually the same - 6 percent and 10 percent, respectively.Information gathered from 7,600 students in 100 public schools also found that 3 percent of the adolescents were regularly "chewing" or "dipping" smokeless tobacco, and 4 percent used chewing tobacco in the previous week. Some 17 percent of Utah teens have tried chewing tobacco.

In the 1984 survey, nearly 4 percent of teens were regular smokeless tobacco users and 6 percent had chewed within the past week.

Utah's local health departments, assisted by the Utah Department of Health, are actively promoting an education program to curtail the use of tobacco by teens. Programs are under way in Salt Lake, Davis, Utah, Tooele, Carbon, Sanpete, Garfield, Cache and Kane counties.

"The anti-tobacco program is designed to help teenagers fully understand the negative aspects of tobacco use, and to teach strategies that will help them quit smoking and chewing tobacco," said Christine Chalkley of the Bureau of Health Promotion

/Risk Reduction. Dozens of program participants have already quit or significantly reduced their tobacco use.

But the state has a long way to go to achieve its goal of reducing the teen smoking rate to less than 3 percent. Health department officials think the school-based programs are one way to help reach that goal.

The teen tobacco cessation program is in fact one Utah response to Gov. Norm Bangerter's challenge to seven other Rocky Mountain states to become the first "tobacco-free" state by 2000. The Utah Department of Health is one member of the community-based Coalition for the Tobacco-Free Utah, which the governor formed to help the state "take aim on tobacco."