More and more younger Americans are snuffing out their cigarettes — at least those filled with tobacco, a new national survey suggests.
The number of 8th, 10th and 12th graders who said they smoked tobacco cigarettes in the last 30 days fell again — to fewer than one in 10 adolescents — in 2013, according to Monitoring the Future (MTF), an annual survey of more than 40,000 students.
Since most smokers begin tobacco habits at a young age, the new data are being welcomed by public health officials, as it shows a long-term trend away from smoking.
Since the peak year of 1997, "the proportion of students currently smoking has dropped by two-thirds — an extremely important development for the health and longevity of this generation of Americans," said Lloyd Johnston, principal investigator of the MTF and a research professor at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.
The MTF results on young-adult marijuana use, however, were more troubling, researchers said.
More teens in all grades took a sanguine view of marijuana — 60 percent of high-school seniors said smoking pot was not harmful.
At the same time, the MTF showed that more students were smoking marijuana: For eighth graders, use of marijuana in the past month rose from 5.8 percent in 2008 to 7 percent in 2013. For 10th graders, past-month usage was up from 13.8 percent to 18 percent, and for 12th graders, it rose 19.4 percent to 22.7 percent.
Seeing more 13- and 14-year-olds using marijuana is a significant cause for alarm, said Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Young teens, whose experimentation with marijuana leads to regular use, "are setting themselves up for declines in IQ and diminished ability for success in life," said Dr. Volkow, adding that marijuana use can interfere with memory and cognitive functionality.
Marijuana is not a benign substance, added Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He and Dr. Volkow highlighted MTF findings that, in states where marijuana can be prescribed as a medicinal product, a third of the marijuana-smoking 12th graders said one of the ways they got the product was through "someone else's" prescription.
Marijuana, which can act as a stimulant, depressant or hallucinogen in humans, remains illegal under federal law. However, 20 states and the District permit marijuana use for medicinal purposes — such as reducing nausea and pain related to cancer treatments — and Colorado and Washington state have legalized the production, sale and use of recreational marijuana. Groups like the Marijuana Policy Project want to see marijuana products regulated like tobacco and alcohol products.
In August, the Justice Department said it would not target the marijuana industry in states where it is legal as long as states keep pot away from children, other states, criminal cartels and federal property.
Dr. Volkow said Wednesday her agency would be also be watching emergency-room admissions, traffic accidents and school-performance statistics to see if they are affected by more liberal marijuana laws.
In other highlights of the MTF:
• Fewer teens said they used synthetic marijuana products, known by such names as K2 and Spice. Public officials have raised alarms about the dangers associated with these cheap, new drugs.
• Current alcohol use fell in all grades — to 10.2 percent among eighth graders, 25.7 percent in 10th graders and 39.2 percent in 12th graders.
• Non-medical use of prescription drugs, like Vicodin and OxyContin, dropped again.
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