A survey shows the number of teens smoking in Iowa is on the decline. Nineteen-and-a-half percent of the Iowa high schoolers surveyed last year were regular smokers. That’s down from 27 percent in 2002. Over half of high school students and about a third of middle schoolers in Iowa tried cigarettes last year, but that’s also on the decline. Bonnie Mapes, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health’s division of tobacco use prevention and control, says smoking among Iowa youth is “well below” the national average. Mapes says the state’s Just Eliminate Lies — or JEL — program which is led by youth is one of the major reasons for the lower smoking rate among Iowa teens. JEL started in the year 2000, when about 34 percent of teens in Iowa smoked. The national smoking rate among youth is 23.9 percent, while Iowa’s rate stands just under 20 percent. “That’s a significant difference,” Mapes says. However, Mapes is concerned that the number of 10, 11 and 12 year olds who are trying cigarettes isn’t changing much, since research shows that’s the prime age range for initiating long-term tobacco use. “We really do need to put a lot of effort now into reaching the middle school students,” Mapes says. She says the decline in high school smoking will level off if middle schoolers don’t get the message. Nearly four-thousand Iowa students in grades six through 12 responded to the survey.