Teen smoking and drinking is currently at historically low numbers, a trend which experts say can be attributed to successful anti-smoking and drinking efforts throughout the past decade.
A new report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that, when compared to use in the mid-90s, adolescent daily smoking was down by 50 percent. Binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks in a row within the two weeks the survey was conducted, was also down about a quarter since 1997.
Researchers collected data from an annual survey of approximately 50,000 eighth, 10th and 12th grade students throughout the country. The results were presented Wednesday at the National Press Club.
"The decrease is very dramatic," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "But despite the dramatic results, the prevalence of teen smoking and drinking is still high, so we can't become complacent."
About 10 percent of 12th graders reported smoking cigarettes on a daily basis and about 20 percent had smoked cigarettes within the past month of taking the survey, which was down from nearly 40 percent in 1997.
But unlike cigarette use, marijuana use is growing.
"The troublesome news is that marijuana use has been trending upwards in the last few years," said Volkow. "We've seen a significant decline in the perception that marijuana is risky. Fewer kids see smoking marijuana as having bad health effects."
In the history of the survey, Volkow said researchers have been able to predict the increase or decrease in specific substance abuses on the basis of the population's attitude toward their perceived dangers.
Marijuana use actually declined in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the past five years showed a steady incline in use among 10th and 12th graders. More than one-third of 12th grade student reported using marijuana within the past year.
Along with marijuana, synthetic marijuana, known as K2 or "Spice," was up with more than 11 percent of 12th graders having reportedly tried it in the past year. Prescription painkiller use was also up.
"Opiates are widely abused among all age groups," said Volkow. "Pain meds are much more widely available and accessible, and I think young people see it as, 'well if they are prescribed by physicians, they can't be so harmful.'"
About six percent of high school seniors had tried painkillers in the past year, and Volkow said about one-third of those students had received it as a prescription.
Nevertheless, the decrease in cigarette smoking is seen as a success, and Cheryl G. Healton, president and CEO of Legacy, which organizes the anti-smoking campaign, the Truth said the statistics are hopeful news for the public health of the nation's youth.
"Any reduction is a welcome one, and this decrease in smoking prevalence can translate into thousands of lives saved from premature deaths from tobacco-related diseases," Healton said in a statement. "It is very encouraging to see that after last year's signs of an increase in smoking among younger teens, we are once again witnessing youth smoking rates decline."
"The decline of smoking and alcohol is due to successful campaigns," said Volkow. "Less young people are even exposed to tobacco in the way they were in the mid-90s. It's also a reflection of prevention and intervention campaigns, along with education, regulations and parental support."