Teen Drinking, Smoking: Study Shows Decline In Alcohol, Drug And Smoking Rates

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TORONTO - Are teens becoming more abstemious?

A new survey shows dropping rates of drinking, drug use and smoking among Canadian teens.

For instance, the percentage of teens who have ever tried smoking cigarettes dropped to 15.5 in 2010-2011, the lowest rate since monitoring of teen smoking began.

Some of the declines are small, but the report — by researchers at the University of Waterloo's Propel Centre — says they are statistically significant.

The figures are contained in the Youth Smoking Survey, which is funded by Health Canada and released every two years.

This cycle is based on interviews with 50,949 students in Grades 6 through 12 in all provinces but New Brunswick, which didn't participate this time around.

While the figures on smoking are low — and dropping — the Canadian Cancer Society still saw signs for concern.

The organization used the release to call for a ban on all flavoured tobacco products, in a bid to discourage smoking of little cigars and hookahs — also known as shisha.

"Knowing fewer young people are smoking cigarillos is welcome and important," Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst for the cancer society, said in a statement.

But he said some tobacco companies continue to sell cigarillos in flavours such as chocolate, peach and cherry, which are attractive to youth.

"As well, we are now faced with the increasing popularity of water pipe smoking, a product that may be a gateway to tobacco addiction," he said.

The survey found six per cent of youth in Grades 6 through 12 reported ever trying a water pipe to smoke tobacco and two per cent reported such use during the 30 days prior to completing the survey.

The highest prevalence of past 30 day water pipe use for smoking tobacco was among current smokers, with 20 per cent saying they'd smoked hookahs during that period.

The rate of current smokers in Grades 6 to 9 dropped to two per cent in 2010-2011, from three per cent in 2008-2009. Of students in Grades 10 through 12, 10 per cent said they were current smokers, down from 13 per cent two years earlier.

Drug use also appeared down. Only five per cent of the survey participants admitted to using MDMA (ecstasy) over the previous 12 months, down from six per cent in the last survey.

Reported use of hallucinogens and salvia also dropped to four per cent and three per cent respectively, compared to seven per cent and five per cent in the previous survey.

And reported cannabis use also dropped, with 21 per cent of students in Grades 7 to 12 saying they used the drug over the past 12 months compared to 27 per cent in the 2008-2009 survey.

On the alcohol use front, 45 per cent of students in Grades 7 through 12 said they drank alcohol in the previous 12 months, compared to 53 per cent in 2008-2009.

One third of students reported having participated in binge drinking — imbibing five or more drinks on one occasion — in the past 12 months. However, that is down from 39 per cent in 2008-09.

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