Fewer WA teens use alcohol and tobacco; depression is up

The privatization of liquor has more than quadrupled the number of outlets selling spirits in Washington. - Mirror file photo
The privatization of liquor has more than quadrupled the number of outlets selling spirits in Washington.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

The state Department of Health (DOH) released the results of its statewide Healthy Youth Survey recently, finding that Washington teens are using tobacco and alcohol at lower rates than in previous years — but, conversely, they are feeling more depressed and suicidal.

The Healthy Youth Survey is administered by the DOH every two years to students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 in more than 1,000 public schools across the state.

For the most recent round of surveys, more than 200,000 students took the survey, according to the DOH. All surveys were taken voluntarily and anonymously.

The results of the survey found that cigarette smoking is down in all grades. According to the survey results, about 10 percent of 10th-graders self-reported having smoked a cigarette within the past 30 days of the time they took the survey. The DOH notes that's a 3 percent decrease from 2010, and a 15 percent decrease since 1999.

The DOH notes that nearly as many youth consumed tobacco using a hookah pipe as cigarettes, and about 7 percent indicated they had smoked a cigar in the last month.

"The physical and emotional health of our youth is crucial to their success in school, in work, in personal relationships, and in their communities," said Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Kevin W. Quigley. "It's good to celebrate that fewer teens are using alcohol and tobacco, but it's clear many teens need more support from the adults in their lives and from friends to make healthy choices and cope with challenges."

Outgoing Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said the drop in smoking rates is a positive outcome from the many anti-smoking initiatives and programs instituted by the state over the past decade or so.

"We're certainly encouraged to see that fewer kids are smoking cigarettes," Selecky said. "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 use other types of tobacco, and using multiple substances, so there's more work to do."

As far as alcohol consumption goes, survey results showed that 12 percent of 8th-graders, 23 percent of 10th-graders, and 36 percent of 12th-graders had used alcohol in the month prior to the time they took the survey. The DOH notes that there has been a marked increase in marijuana use among 10th- and 12th-graders as well, with that number being almost double of students who smoke cigarettes.

"I'm pleased that underage drinking is trending downward," said Liquor Control Board Chair Sharon Foster. "However, this past year's privatization of liquor has more than quadrupled the number of outlets selling spirits. With the potential for increased youth access, it's more important than ever for kids to talk to their parents about alcohol."

One of the most startling revelations of the survey was that about 8 percent of 8th- and 10th-graders admitted to attempting suicide sometime in the past year. More than 100,000 students between ages 12-17, about one in every six students who participated in the survey, had "seriously considered suicide."

According to the DOH, more than one in four teens responded that they had felt "so sad or hopeless for two weeks in a row that they stopped doing usual activities." 26 percent of 8th-graders reported this, 31 percent of 10th-graders, and 30 percent in 12th grade.

Even with those numbers, the DOH reports that students showed an increase in their "commitment to school," with fewer skipping school in the most recent survey.


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