A new Washington state school health survey finds high school students are smoking less cigarettes but more pot. (AP file)

Survey: Wash. high schoolers prefer pot to cigarettes

A new, school health survey in Washington shows that anti-smoking campaigns and anti-drinking messages are getting through to kids. But there are some troubling findings about marijuana use.

The 2012 Healthy Youth Survey, sponsored by four different state agencies, finds that cigarette smoking is down for all age levels. But, surprisingly, the survey found that the percentage of 10th and 12th graders who smoke marijuana is nearly double the percentage of cigarette smokers.

"Kids are thinking that maybe marijuana is not so bad," suggested state Health Secretary Mary Seleky. She thinks education campaigns that have reduced youth drinking and smoking, have not caught up with youth trends.

"There hasn't been much kind of education in and around marijuana and we just passed an initiative that says for those over 21, you can use it for recreational use so we're going to have to watch the attitudes over the next few years," said Seleky.

The survey is conducted among 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders every two years. It's sponsored by the state Health Department, Department of Social and Health Services, Department of Commerce and the state Liquor Control Board.

About ten percent of 10th graders admit smoking a cigarette in the previous 30 days. That's down 25 percent from 1999.

Underage alcohol use continues to decline but the survey still shows 115,000 young people who drink. Brian Smith with the Liquor Control Board urges parents to talk to their kids about drinking.

"Kids say that the number one thing that will keep them from drinking is knowing that their parents are talking to them about it and that they care," said Smith.

It's too soon to know if privatization of liquor sales will impact teen alcohol use.

"We went from about 329 outlets that were selling hard liquor to over 1,400 now so clearly, there's much more potential access for youth so we'll have to see if there's any impact down the road," said Smith. That could show up in the 2014 Healthy Youth Survey.

In terms of emotional health, while the numbers haven't changed much in that category over the last ten years, the survey shows about one-in-six students seriously considered suicide.

The 2012 survey also asked questions about sexual activity (55-percent of 12th graders had sexual intercourse), participation in school activities and school attendance (fewer students are skipping school, more report feeling safe at school).

Tim Haeck, KIRO Radio Reporter
Tim Haeck is a news reporter with KIRO Radio. While Tim is one of our go-to, no-nonsense reporters, he also has a sensationally dry sense of humor and it will surprise some to learn he is a weekend warrior.
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