Vice of Choice: For U.S. Teens, It’s Pot Over Cigarettes

Vice of Choice: For U.S. Teens, It’s Pot Over Cigarettes Photo (cc) by Brooke Hoyer

When it comes to teen substance abuse rates in the United States, there’s good news: cigarette and alcohol use are either stable or declining, and there’s bad news: marijuana use among teens is on the rise.

It’s an interesting trend that was revealed in a recent teen substance abuse study from researchers at Penn State.

“Our analysis shows that public health campaigns are working — fewer teens are smoking cigarettes,” said Stephanie Lanza, professor of biobehavioral health and scientific director of The Methodology Center at Penn State, in a press release. “However, we were surprised to find the very clear message that kids are choosing marijuana over cigarettes.”

The study, which focuses on cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, is based on survey data from more than 600,000 U.S. high school seniors between 1976 and 2013.

Researchers found that cigarette use, particularly among white teens, has significantly declined at the same time that marijuana use, particularly among black teens, has been on the rise. According to the study:

In 1993, black adolescents were equally likely to use marijuana and cigarettes, and have continued an upward trend in marijuana use since. White adolescents were more likely to smoke cigarettes than use marijuana until 2011, when marijuana usage slightly surpassed that of cigarettes. In 2013, nearly 19 percent of white teens smoked cigarettes, while almost 22 percent used marijuana. At the same time only about 10 percent of black teens smoked cigarettes, but nearly 25 percent used marijuana.

Although teen alcohol use has been declining since the mid-1970s, white teens’ substance of choice is still booze. Throughout the 37-year study period, white teens’ alcohol use remained higher than that of black teens.

Researchers found that teens who smoked cigarettes were more likely to use marijuana, and vice versa. Teens who drank excessively were also more likely to use weed, and vice versa.

So, why the increase in pot use among teens? At first glance, the legalization of marijuana in some states would seem to be a likely culprit, but research has shown that doesn’t appear to be the case. A recent study found that legalizing medical marijuana does not increase adolescent pot use.

“Our findings provide the strongest evidence to date that marijuana use by teenagers does not increase after a state legalizes medical marijuana,” said Dr. Deborah Hasin, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, in a statement.

Although the study found that pot use is higher in states that legalized it, researchers said it wasn’t the change in laws that led to its increase, but rather, people’s relaxed attitudes toward marijuana and their tendencies to use it more.

Are you surprised to see teen marijuana use is on the rise? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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