Fewer Washington state students are drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, but more report smoking marijuana than tobacco, according to a statewide survey of kids released Thursday, March 14.
It's likely because students believe marijuana smoke is less dangerous to their health than cigarette smoke, state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said.
"What we know is smoke is smoke. It impairs the lungs," Selecky said of the impacts on student health.
The 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 the state.
Whatcom County survey results were similar to state results, for the most part.
More than 200,000 youths participated in the survey in October - a total of 5,247 in Whatcom County - that asked them a wide variety of questions about their healthy habits and risky behavior.
The results are used to determine where public health officials and educators should focus their efforts.
Other survey highlights include:
Cigarette smoking is down in all grades across the state. For example, about 10 percent of 10th graders reported smoking a cigarette at least once in the past 30 days - compared to nearly 13 percent in 2010 and 25 percent in 1999.
Those results were the same for Whatcom County 10th-graders, in which cigarette smoking dropped to 10 percent from 14 percent in 2010.
Still, state health officials expressed concern about students using other tobacco products, such as cigars or chew, adding that nearly as many 10th-graders smoked tobacco from a hookah pipe as from a cigarette.
Underage drinking is down compared to 2010. Statewide results show that 12 percent of eighth-graders, 23 percent of 10th-graders and 36 percent of 12th-graders had a drink within 30 days.
In Whatcom County, 10 percent of eighth-graders, 25 percent of 10th-graders and 39 percent of 12th-graders had a drink within 30 days - essentially unchanged from 2010.
Of concern to state health officials was that the percentage of 10th- and 12th-graders in the state who smoke marijuana was nearly double the percentage of cigarette smokers in the younger age category, and 11 percent more among high school seniors. Results for Whatcom County teens were similar.
The levels of pot use among teens hasn't changed much in recent years, officials said, even as the state was able to drive down tobacco use.
Rates of depression reported among students also were worrisome, although those numbers haven't changed much in the past decade.
"We don't want any kid who feels so hopeless that they take their life, or attempt to take their life," Selecky said.
The survey also tracks teen sexual behavior, with 32 percent of 10th-graders and 55 percent of high school seniors saying they've had intercourse.
Just 60 percent of kids who have sex report using protection or condoms.
"I worry about the other 40 percent," Selecky said.
Whatcom County public health officials say they just received the survey results and are still analyzing teens' answers.
But some of the initial readings were promising.
"Any time the number goes down and you're seeing some positive results, even if they're small, those steps are in the right direction," said Joe Fuller, program specialist with the Whatcom County Health Department.
MORE INFORMATION, HELP
To learn more about children's health, how to talk to your kids about alcohol, and for an overview of the 2012 Washington Healthy Youth Survey, go online to:
askhys.net, Healthy Youth Survey. The 2012 results are up for the state and Whatcom County, as are those from previous years. Put your cursor on "HYS Results" and then select "Frequency Reports."
starttalkingnow.org, Washington State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking. Learn how to talk to children about alcohol use.
Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.