- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teen use of alcohol and cigarettes fell to their lowest levels in decades, while use of several drugs, including marijuana, is down or stable, according to a new national survey.

But amid the good news in the 2014 Monitoring the Future study was the troubling finding that more teens are using e-cigarettes than using tobacco cigarettes.

E-cigarettes have become the nicotine-delivery device “of choice” for middle and high school students, Richard Miech, senior investigator of the 40-year-old study, said Tuesday.

Among 8th-graders, 9 percent said they used a smokeless, tobaccoless “vaping” product in the past month, compared with 4 percent who said they smoked cigarettes.

About 16 percent of 10th graders said they had used e-cigs, compared with 7 percent who smoked cigarettes, and among high school seniors, 17 percent said they used e-cigarettes compared with 14 percent who smoked cigarettes.

Because e-cigarettes could serve as an entry point into the use of highly addictive nicotine, this first-time finding about the prevalence of the use of these devices is the “fly in the ointment” in the survey’s many positive findings, said Lloyd Johnston, principal investigator of the Monitoring the Future survey, which interviewed more than 41,000 students in 377 schools this year.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and other public health officials praised most of the outcomes in this year’s survey as “very good news.”

“With the rates of many drugs decreasing, and the rates of marijuana use appearing to level off, it is possible that prevention efforts are having an effect,” said Dr. Volkow.

She and other officials urged teens, parents, educators and others involved in fighting substance abuse not to become complacent.

“We all know that the best way to reduce drug use is to prevent it from ever starting,” said Mary Lou Leary, a deputy director of state, local and tribal affairs with the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The Monitoring the Future survey, which started in 1975, found that alcohol use and tobacco cigarette use were at historically low levels this year.

In 1991, for instance, 70 percent of 8th-graders, 84 percent of 10th-graders and 88 percent of 12th-graders said they had engaged in “any use” of an alcoholic beverage.

Those numbers all fell to new lows this year, with 27 percent of 8th-graders, 49 percent of 10th-graders and 66 percent of 12th-graders reporting “any use” of alcoholic beverages.

Tobacco use is also on a steady decline, according to the federally funded survey, which was based at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

In 1975 three out of four 12th-graders reported any use of cigarettes. During the 1980s and 1990s, tobacco use drifted up and down for these high school seniors and then began falling through the 2000s. Today, 34 percent of 12th-graders say they have smoked at least once in their lifetimes.

Teens in the younger grades, who always smoked less than the seniors, also reported low levels of “lifetime” smoking in 2014: About 14 percent of 8th-graders and 23 percent of 10th-graders said they have ever smoked. Even smaller numbers of youth — 1 percent of 8th-graders, 3 percent of 10th-graders and 6.7 percent of seniors — said they smoked cigarettes every day.

Teen use of any illicit drug other than marijuana either declined or was stable in 2014. Misuse of prescription drugs among seniors was down significantly, as well as hallucinogen use.

Teen marijuana use has been watched with care given the rise of states that have decriminalized marijuana or legalized it for medical use.

But about 12 percent of 8th-graders, 27 percent of 10th-graders and 35 percent of seniors said they ingested marijuana in the last 12 months, the survey said. These levels are stable or lower than in the last five years.

In addition, the new survey said use of illegal drugs such as heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine were unchanged between 2013 and 2014.

Overall teen use of the club drug MDMA, which is known as “Ecstasy” or “Molly,” has fallen to about 2 percent; this is significantly lower than the 6 percent teen use of MDMA seen in 2001.

Inhalant use among 8th-graders is also down, to 5.3 percent, which is far from the peak use of 12.8 percent seen in 1995.

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