Study shows mixed patterns of teen behavior

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(Host) According to a new report, alcohol and tobacco use by most young people in Vermont is declining, but marijuana and cigarette use among high school seniors is increasing.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Every two years the state conducts a youth risk behavior survey among 8th, 10th and 12th graders across Vermont. This year’s report is based on anonymous responses from just over 8,000 students in these three grades.

The number of students who smoke has declined significantly over the last six years. In 1997, 36% of the students reported that they had smoked a cigarette in the last 30 days; this year that number has fallen to 20%. In 1997, 50% of the students said they had consumed alcohol in the past month; this year that number is 39%. Six years ago, 32% of all students reported using marijuana; this year that figure has dropped to 25%, with significant reductions in the lower grades.

Speaking at a special assembly at Camel’s Hump Middle School in Richmond, Health Commissioner Paul Jarris told 100 7th graders that the survey contains some good news:

(Jarris) “The important thing to notice is that kids are making better and better decisions every year, they’re making wiser decisions. One of the reasons that’s so important is the older you get the more it’s up to you yourself to make those decisions. It comes down to you. You really have to look inside your heart and decide what’s right for you and what’s right for you to do in your lives.”

(Kinzel) There were some areas of concern in the report. Marijuana use among high school seniors has gone up slightly from two years ago and the number of 12th graders who smoke has also increased. Commissioner Jarris thinks the major tobacco companies are responsible for this change:

(Jarris) “Overall in this nation we’ve seen smoking rates fall from 45% to low 20s, but in that demographic it’s going up. And we believe that’s the targeted marketing, it’s the investment that the tobacco companies are making in their future.”

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas urged the students to talk about these issues with their families and friends:

(Douglas) “The key is for all of you to engage in informed discussions about these difficult topics. It’s important to talk about these issues because communication, I believe, is really the key. It’s when we don’t talk about them and learn how much impact our decisions can have on our lives that we get into trouble.”

(Kinzel) The survey also shows that the number of students considering suicide has declined by roughly 35% since 1997.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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