Teen Smoking, Alcohol, Illicit Drug Use Decline This Year, National Survey Finds
The number of teenagers who use tobacco, alcohol or illicit drugs fell this year, according to an annual National Institute on Drug Abuse survey, the New York Times reports. Conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, the "Monitoring the Future" survey tracked substance abuse among 8th-, 10th- and 12th-grade students using a random sample of 44,000 students in 400 schools nationwide. In one of the largest declines, the study found that the percentage of students who said they had ever smoked dropped by four or five percentage points in each grade level since last year. The proportion of 8th-grade students who have ever smoked drop from 21% in 1996, to 10.7% in 2002, the study found. Smoking declines were not as pronounced among 10th and 12th graders, but improvements are expected as current 8th-grade students progress to the higher graders, according to Lloyd Johnson, a University of Michigan psychologist who led the study. Johnson said the decline in smoking is linked to increasing prices, a reduction in tobacco advertising and a "less favorable view" of smoking. For example, 81% of 8th graders said they preferred to date nonsmokers, up from 71% in 1996. Seventy-two percent of 12th graders reported the same preference, up from 64% in 1996 (Butterfield, New York Times, 12/17). The study also found:
- Use of marijuana, the most commonly used illicit drug, dropped in all grade levels (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 12/17);
- Cocaine use remained unchanged for each grade level, with 2.3% of 8th graders, 4% of 10th graders and 5% of 12th graders reporting using the drug in the past year;
- Crack cocaine use increased among 10th graders last year, up from 1.8% in 2001 to 2.3%;
- Heroin and other opiate use remained steady at about 1% for each grade level;
- Use of inhalants among 8th and 10th graders dropped to the lowest level in 20 years to 15.2% and 13.5%, respectively;
- Rates of LSD use "decreased markedly" for each grade level, falling to 3.5% for 12th graders, 2.6% for 10th graders and 1.5% for 8th graders, the lowest levels the survey has recorded;
- Students in the 8th and 12th grades reported "significant reductions" in alcohol use. Rates of binge drinking and drunkenness also declined;
- Ecstasy use decreased significantly for 10th graders, falling from 6.2% to 4.9%. Rates in the other two grades also declined (NIDA release, 12/16).
Experts attributed the decline in substance abuse among teens to several factors. Johnson said the decreased use, particularly of alcohol and tobacco, may be linked to the Sept. 11 attacks. "I think is quite possible that the tragedy of [Sept. 11] had somewhat of a sobering effect on the country's young people," he said. Acting NIDA Director Dr. Glen Hanson said that negative advertising helped increase teenagers' appreciation for the risks associated with smoking, alcohol and drug use. "When teenagers perceive risk is going up, drug use starts down, and that's what the survey this year shows," he added (New York Times, 12/17). Tobacco control advocates have credited a host of tactics for decreasing teen tobacco use, including higher taxes, indoor smoking bans, aggressive antismoking media campaigns and health-education programs. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the study's finding could "lessen tobacco companies' vulnerability" to allegations that they target their advisements toward youth. Mark Smith, a spokesperson for British American Tobacco, said the declines in tobacco use "should take the pressure" off lawmakers to raise taxes and implement anti-tobacco advocates' policy agenda. "If it seems the problem is getting better, why continue to put more and more regulations in place?" he added (Fairclough, Wall Street Journal, 12/17). Regardless, Hanson said that the declines in tobacco and alcohol use among teenagers could lead to fewer future health problems if teens continue to abstain from smoking and heavy alcohol use (Fackelmann, USA Today, 12/17). NPR's "All Things Considered" yesterday reported on the survey (Hochberg, "All Things Considered," NPR, 12/16). The full segment is available in RealPlayer Audio online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.