Maine had been a teen-smoking success story. In the decade starting in 1997, it went from having one of the worst youth smoking rates to one the best, thanks to a concerted effort by state health officials, schools, families and law enforcement. But now we are in the middle of a rebound, and while there are plenty of theories, no one can really say why.

That will have to end if Maine is again going to be a national leader on this front. Losing ground here would mean more — and more expensive — health problems in Maine’s future, and a diminished quality of life for many Maine people.

Initially, Maine had success with a multipronged approach that involved public education, increasing the cost of tobacco products with taxes, and cracking down on stores that provided cigarettes to minors.

Unlike some other states, which cut back on tobacco prevention support, Maine continued to fund its programs after the budget crisis hit. Still, the teen smoking rate in Maine, which had dropped to 14 percent in 2007, is now up over 18 percent, just below the national average.

Some attribute the increase to stress related to the national recession, but someone who never started smoking would be unlikely to reach for that crutch when stressed.

Others posit that a new generation of teens has come of age in an era of $5-a-pack cigarettes, and they are not discouraged by the increased taxes. If that’s true, a major weapon in the fight has been made ineffective.

The federal government has come through with $750,000 to beef up the state’s enforcement operation. Although that is important, it probably won’t be enough.

Keeping teens from starting is still the most effective and least costly ways to limit smoking in the long run, but other avenues should also be pursued. Intensive smoking-cessation programs to support adults who want to quit would reduce the number of smokers in our communities, and maybe make it less likely for young people to start.

Public education programs should be updated to a new-media environment where teenagers get information in new ways.

Maine could be a smoking success story again, but it will take new strategies to get there.