Cigarette smoking is falling out of fashion among American teens, so much so that vaping and pot are now more prevalent, according to a new government-funded study. Researchers at the University of Michigan surveyed nearly 50,000 students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade across the U.S. and asked the teens to self-report any recent drug use. Out of all the 12th graders surveyed, 22.9% said they had used pot within the last 30 days, 16.6% said they had used a vaping device, and only 9.7% said they had smoked cigarettes.
The 'Monitoring the Future' study, which has been conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) every year since 1975, also found that teens' use of alcohol, tobacco, prescription painkillers, and other drugs has either decreased since last year, or remained at the same level. The results regarding opioid abuse are especially promising, with teen opioid use hitting historic lows, despite the current opioid crisis. For example, only 2% of teens said they used Vicodin in 2017, down significantly from 10.5% in 2003.
"We're impressed by the improvement in substance use by all teenagers," Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the NIDA, told The New York Times. However, Dr. Compton is concerned about the increase in popularity of vaping devices, given that "we don't yet know about the health problems in vaping." Although many of these vaping devices are sold for nicotine use, over half of the teens said they were vaping "just flavoring."
"We are especially concerned because the survey shows that some of the teens using these devices are first-time nicotine users," Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of NIDA, said in a statement. "Recent research suggests that some of them could move on to regular cigarette smoking, so it is critical that we intervene with evidence-based efforts to prevent youth from using these products."
Although teens' use of most drugs is falling, rates of cannabis use remain consistent. Researchers found that teenage cannabis use across all three grades surveyed rose from 22.6% last year to 23.9% this year, but the current figures are consistent with the data reported in 2015. Views on cannabis use have also changed, with 14.1% of 12th graders stating that occasional consumption was a "great risk," down from 17.1% last year, and drastically down from the 40.6% reported in 1991.
Another government-funded study released this week found that use of marijuana among 12-17 year olds across the U.S. has decreased slightly in recent years. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 12.29% of U.S. teens smoked pot in the 2015-16 study period, down from 12.86% in the 2014-15 study. The study found surprising and significant decreases in teen cannabis use in legal states, however, with teens in both Colorado and Washington reporting that they smoke less marijuana than they did before these states legalized recreational cannabis. These findings suggest that legalization may indeed be the most effective deterrent to underage cannabis use.