Survey finds youths smoking, drinking less

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Fewer students are smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, according to a recent survey of kids in Washington state.

The self-reported Healthy Youth Survey is taken every two years by students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 in more than 1,000 public schools in Washington. In October 2012, 200,000-plus youth answered a wide variety of questions about their health and behaviors that impact health.

Here, however, less that 40 percent of area high schools participated in the survey, meaning data for Walla Walla County is too slim to be counted, said Harvey Crowder, administrator for Walla Walla County Public Health Department.

State results show cigarette smoking is down in all the grades, with about 10 percent of high school sophomores reporting having smoked a cigarette at least once in the past 30 days. That’s down from nearly 13 percent in 2010 and from 25 percent in 1999.

“We’re certainly encouraged to see that fewer kids are smoking cigarettes,” said Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. “In fact, smoking rates are half what they were a decade ago. I’m proud of our tobacco prevention and control work. It has truly made a difference in the health of Washington kids. Still, we’re seeing many teens using other types of tobacco, and using multiple substances, so there’s more work to do.”

Statewide, about 50,000 youth smoke, and 40 start smoking every day. Survey takers said they also use other tobacco products such as cigars or chew. Nearly as many 10th graders smoked tobacco from a hookah pipe as from a cigarette, and about seven percent said they had smoked a cigar in the last month.

The survey also noted nearly twice as many of the state’s high school sophomores and seniors smoke marijuana over tobacco.

Preventing underage drinking has been a statewide priority for the last decade, and nearly 11,000 fewer students are using alcohol compared to 2010. Nonetheless more than 115,000 youth currently drink. Survey results show 12 percent of eighth-graders, 23 percent of 10th-graders and 36 percent of 12th-graders used alcohol in the 30 days before the survey date.

Challenges remain in other areas. About 8 percent of eighth- and 10th-graders attempted suicide in the past year. Over 100,000 youth, ages 12-17, seriously considered suicide – about one in every six students. More than one in four teens surveyed said they felt so sad or hopeless for two weeks in a row that they stopped doing usual activities.

At the same time, students across all grades reported an increase in their “commitment to school,” and fewer are skipping school. “Teachers and school administrators have done a great job in creating safe and supportive learning environments for our students,” said Randy Dorn, superintendent of public instruction.

“More of them report they feel safe, enjoy being at school, and have opportunities to become involved in school-related activities. When students feel safe and are committed to school, they’re more likely to succeed.

Recently added questions about sexual health help inform effective prevention programs. Nearly one-third of 10th-graders and more than half of 12th-graders reported having ever had sexual intercourse. About seven percent of 10th-graders and 16 percent of 12th-graders reported they had four or more sexual partners.

About six percent of 10th-graders and five percent of 12th-graders reported having sex for the first time at age 12 or younger.

The survey is a joint effort of Washington’s Department of Health, Department of Social and Health Services, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Liquor Control Board, the Family Policy Council, and the Department of Commerce. Results are used to plan, implement and evaluate state youth programs. To see the survey, go to www.askhys.net.

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