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Teen smoking rate drops below pot usage

Elaine Thompson
Associated Press

Washington high school students who participated in a statewide health survey say they are twice as likely to smoke marijuana as cigarettes.

Overall, though, the trends show teenagers are drinking, smoking and abusing prescription drugs less than in the past.

In fact, 8th and 10th graders are half as likely to drink alcohol compared to those in 1998.

State health officials say high school smoking has decreased significantly across the state, with cigarette smoking down in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12. But the number of high school students who believe using marijuana is risky is also at a low point.

Health officials fear that use will go up, unless there's a perception that its harmful or dangerous.

"The marijuana piece is one that we’ve gotta keep our eye on," says Washington Health Secretary Mary Selecky. "In fact, as a result of the law that’s going to be implemented, we’ve gotta do some good education for our youth to understand, this is not good for you."

Washington voters legalized marijuana possession for adults over 21 this past November, but possession remains illegal for youth.

Some anticipated tax revenue from sales of marijuana at state licensed stores will be devoted to youth prevention education. However, Selecky admits, compared to tobacco, there’s not nearly as much research about marijuana – which will make it harder to mount an education campaign about the dangers.

The percentage of teens who smoke pot has stayed about the same over the past decade, while tobacco and alcohol use have dropped steadily.

The Healthy Youth Surveywas conducted in schools during October 2012.

Keith Seinfeld is a former KNKX/KPLU reporter who covered health, science and the environment over his 17 years with the station. He also served as assistant news director. Prior to KLPU, he was a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.