Youth Drug Survey finds e-cigarettes still popular

Published 12:14 pm Monday, December 19, 2022

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Results from a second Youth Drug Survey of middle and high school students in Stanly County, conducted by the Charlotte-based Center for Prevention Services in early spring, show that more young people are again using electronic cigarettes than any other substance, including alcohol.

About 12% of respondents reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, slightly higher than the 11% that reported using the substance in 2020, the last time the survey was conducted.

E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular with teenagers and are now the most commonly used form of tobacco for teens in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than 2.5 million U.S. middle and high school students currently used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

In North Carolina, it is against the law for people under the age of 18 to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

When asked where they got tobacco substance the last time they used it, 32% of respondents said they got it from a friend, down from 39% in 2020.

It appears more young people are using tobacco in solitary locations, including at home alone (18%) and in a car (14%), a change from two years ago, when more people used in public settings, either at a friend’s house (20%) or at home with friends (11%).

While e-cigarettes are popular among young people, the data from the survey indicate that overall only about 20% of respondents reported using any substance (alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, prescription drugs) in the past 30 days.

“That’s a good thing to be feeling positive about and that’s due to the prevention work that has been going on,” said Drew Reynolds, a consultant with Common Good Data who co-authored the youth survey.

Researchers collected survey responses from around 1,200 sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th graders across 10 schools in the county. The survey was anonymous and students had the choice to not participate. A summary report of the results were presented to Stanly County Board of Education members during a work session Dec. 14.

Aside from e-cigarettes, other common substances used by youth over a 30-day period included alcohol (11% of respondents), marijuana (9%) and prescription drugs (7%). The smoking of traditional cigarettes was low, with only 2% of respondents reporting they had done so over the 30-day period.

Marijuana usage increased by about 4% from 2020, when only 5% of respondents reported using the substance.

Some of the other key findings:

  • When compared with state and national benchmarks, Stanly students have relatively lower rates of substance use.
  • Middle school students were at greater risk of prescription drug use (9% compared to 6% of high school youth) though high school students were at greater risk for alcohol, e-cigarettes and marijuana.
  • The main reason young people report using both e-cigarettes and prescription drugs without a prescription is to deal with problems at school, “suggesting links between substance use, mental health and the need for healthy coping schools,” according to the report.
  • The average age of onset — meaning the first time a youth tries a substance — is between 12 to 14 years of age for most substances, indicating many kids are not yet in high school when they are first exposed.

When it comes to reducing e-cigarette use, the report encourages focusing on changing norms around the acceptability of the substance. The survey found that young people were 80% less likely to use e-cigarettes if they thought their friends would think it was “wrong” or “very wrong” if they used them.

Several key recommendations proposed to help curb substance use include working to promote healthy coping strategies, sharing positive messages highlighting benefits of most youth in the county are not using substances and finding ways to reach young people with prevention messaging on social media platforms, such as Snapchat and Tik Tok.

The Youth Drug Survey was designed by CPS more than 30 years ago for students in Mecklenburg County and has been in continuous use with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools ever since. This was the second time the survey was administered to students in Stanly County. The next round of surveys will be conducted in 2024.

The survey is part of a five-year $1.25 million Partnership for Success Grant that CPS was awarded and that will serve the needs of those in Stanly. The grant, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and began in 2019, will run through Sept. 20, 2024.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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