According to a national survey of adolescent drug use released Thursday cigarette smoking has dropped dramatically off the popularity list among teenagers, while vaping and marijuana have leapfrogged them.
The study, which was funded National Institute on Drug Abuse and administered by the University of Michigan, found that 22.9 percent of high school seniors said that they had used marijuana within the previous 30 days and 16.6 percent had used a vaping device while only 9.7 percent had smoked cigarettes. The study surveyed 43,703 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students in public and private schools nationwide.
The study showed a drop in alcohol, tobacco, prescription opioids and stimulants among teenagers as well, showing the lowest rates in 20 years.
“We’re impressed by the improvement in substance use by all teenagers,” said Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the institute. “We don’t yet know about the health problems in vaping.”
While some experts believe that vaping is a safer alternative to cigarettes, Dr. Compton says that “the concern is that it may represent a new route for exposure to nicotine and marijuana.”
The drop in tobacco use is considered “an astounding accomplishment in public health”, says Thomas J. Glynn, a former director of cancer science at the American Cancer Society and an adjunct lecturer at Stanford University School of Medicine, but added that “it doesn’t mean we close the door and go home now.”
Allison Kilcoyne,who directs a health center at a high school in Boston, says that there is a challenge when making teens understand the risks associated with marijuana.
“They perceive there are no negative effects,” Kilcoyne said. “I talk about the impact on their developing brain and the risk of learning to smoke marijuana as a coping mechanism. We have other interventions, I say. But the problem is that for them, it works. They’re feeling immediate relief of whatever symptoms they have. They’re medicating themselves.”
“Drug use tends to go hand in hand with perceptions of risk and approval,” said Ty S. Schepis, an associate professor of psychology at Texas State University who studies adolescent and young adult drug use.
“I’ve had friends who like to go sky diving. I would never go sky diving. There are certain activities that we may quietly condone or tacitly approve, even though the majority still may not want to engage in it.”