Today the National Institute of Drug Abuse announced that cigarette and alcohol use by eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders is at its lowest point since its annual Monitoring the Future survey began 36 years ago. Cause for celebration? Not so fast.
Teens are still drinking and smoking — just a bit less. (Alcohol remains their drug of choice.) And too many teens are abusing marijuana and prescription drugs.
The NIDA survey, conducted earlier this year by the University of Michigan for NIDA, found that a depressing 18.7 percent of twelfth graders still reported smoking cigarettes in the past month. Sure, it's a vast improvement over the peak rate of 36.5 percent in 1997. But it's still 18.7 percent too many. Somehow the message that lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer death in the United States is not getting through to all kids.
Most teens also still ignore warnings about alcohol use. The new survey found that 63.5 percent of twelfth graders drank in the past year. Again, it's down from 1997, when 74.8 percent imbibed. But it's still far too high. Who out there doesn't know some incredibly talented, wonderful person who has died from alcoholism? I rest my case.
The marijuana statistics are also upsetting. An incredible 36.4 percent of twelfth graders reported using pot in the past year and 6.6 percent said they smoked it daily. (Moms, aren't you noticing the scent when you do laundry?) Five years ago, the numbers were 31.5 percent and 5 percent.
One reason for the jump: 15 states today allow the use of medical marijuana, so kids today perceive pot as being not so risky. But it is. Officials at the National Institute on Drug Abuse note that about one in 10 people who try marijuana get addicted.
Lock up your medicine cabinet. More than 8 percent of twelfth graders reported abusing the opioid painkiller Vicodin. And 6.5 percent of high school seniors used ADHD medications when they didn't need them. Check out NIDA's teen websiteand its section on prescription drug abuse.
Not sure what to say to your kids? See the American Lung Association's tips for parents, which include enforcing a strict smoke-free policy in your own home. (Sorry, grandpa. No cigarettes allowed!)
What else can you do? Talk to your teens. Explain that stars who drink too much and light up are not role models. I get so angry at celebrities who smoke cigarettes and pot in public! Or even at those, such as Miley Cyrus, who allude to it. (Check out the Huffington Post's video, labeled, "Miley Says: 'Weed My Lips.'"
Just as weed-loving surfer Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" was not someone to emulate, neither are the pot users in today's movies. In January, for example, researchers at New York University who followed 806 moms and their kids since 1975 reported that chronic marijuana smokers were more likely to behave aggressively and to miss work or school.
Remember Lynyrd Skynyrd's lyrics, "Ooh, ooh that smell"? If you sniff whiskey bottles (or cigarettes or pot), don't worry about coming across like Dana Carvey's "Church Lady." It's OK, too, if you were no nun when you were growing up. You can keep some gory details to yourself, and you can admit to regrets. Be a fuddy-duddy when it comes to the health and future of your kids.
For more stories on marijuana, cigarettes, and other substances, read: