The likelihood that young people in Snohomish County are binge drinking, smoking cigarettes or using illegal drugs like heroin or methamphetamine appears to be dropping, according to the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey Results. But the popularity of vapor products, or e-cigarettes, is increasing among all grade levels surveyed — an alarming step back after years of progress in reducing youth tobacco use, the Snohomish County Health District said Thursday.
Nearly half of high school seniors who responded to the survey in Snohomish County say they’ve tried an e-cigarette or vape pen at some point. About 30 percent say they currently vape.
The percentages are lower among younger students, but still concerning, the health district said. More than a third of high school sophomores have tried vaping, and one in five currently vape. For 8th grade students, one in five have tried vaping and one in 10 currently vape.
“We have Healthy Youth Survey results going back to 2002. The percentage of Snohomish County youth using traditional cigarettes reached an all-time low in 2018. That’s the good news,” said Dr. Mark Beatty, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “The bad news is the rising popularity of e-cigarettes puts today’s youths at risk of becoming addicted to tobacco products through this route.”
The 2018 results also show that the older a student gets, the less likely they are to believe regular use of an e-cigarette is harmful — about 46 percent of 8th graders said it was harmful compared to only 32 percent of seniors.
“From 2016 to 2018, more than five times as many 10th grade students said they use vapor products containing nicotine,” Beatty said. “Other possible risks are still being studied, but we already know that nicotine is highly addictive. These are serious concerns for public health.”
The Healthy Youth Survey is given every other year statewide to students in the 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades. In Snohomish County, 2,029 6th graders, 3,772 8th graders, 3,561 10th graders and 2,793 12th graders completed the survey. The survey is optional and anonymous. Questions covering topics such as health behaviors, safety, and mental health will be released later this spring.
Youth marijuana use has not changed drastically. High school seniors in Snohomish County are less likely to have smoked marijuana recently — about 15 percent in the 2018 survey, down from 20 percent in 2014 and 2016. However, there was no significant change in other forms of use, such as edibles, vaping or dabbing. With vapor devices, it can be difficult for parents or teachers to tell the difference between marijuana and e-cigarette liquid.
In the last decade, the percentage of seniors who reported using any illegal drug to get high in the last month has been halved, down to 5 percent in the 2018 survey. That does not include marijuana, which is illegal for those younger than 21. Just over 3 percent of seniors said they’ve used heroin at some point, as did about 2 percent of 8th and 10th graders.
Snohomish County also is seeing improvements in youth alcohol use. Across grade levels, the percentage of students who binge drink is at the lowest it’s been since the survey started in 2002. For seniors, 14 percent say they binge drink. It’s 9.1 percent for sophomores. In 2002, the rates were 29 percent of seniors and 20 percent of sophomore who said they binge drink.