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Survey finds less use of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes by ninth-graders

Fewer ninth-graders in Erie County are smoking, drinking or taking drugs today than ninth-graders four years ago, according to the latest study by Roswell Park Cancer Institute researchers.

The 2008-09 survey covered 2,868 students, about 30 percent of ninth-graders enrolled in schools throughout the county. Roswell Park has conducted similar surveys every four years since 1992. The biggest decreases were for tobacco consumption, which went to 9 percent from 12 percent of ninth-graders, said Andrew Hyland, lead investigator for the study.

"That's about a 25 percent reduction since the last time we did the study four years ago. Since we've done this survey in 1992, smoking rates among ninth-graders are as low as they've ever been," said Hyland, part of Roswell Park's department of health behavior.

Hyland described the state and Western New York, in particular, as national leaders in "tobacco control activity," which includes such measures as high state taxes on cigarettes and local prohibitions against smoking in most public places.

Tobacco companies, however, continue to find new ways to market to young people, including the introduction of flavored products with unusual packaging designs and the ability to order cigarettes online.

Alcohol remained the most commonly used drug among ninth-graders in the county, with 28 percent reporting having consumed an alcoholic beverage in the past month. That is still a 32 percent decrease from four years ago.

"Alcohol advertising is more prevalent than advertising for tobacco products, which is one of the main reasons why youth rates for consumption of alcohol are higher," Hyland said.

Use of marijuana decreased from 10 percent to 9 percent of by ninth-graders. Hyland said controlling marijuana is more difficult because government policy has not changed.

"Still, studies show a correlation between smoking marijuana and smoking cigarettes, so the decrease in tobacco consumption may be driving a secondary benefit with the decrease in marijuana use as a sort of fortuitous two-for-one deal," he added.

"The lesson in all this is that there has got to be a full-court press all the time [in steering youth away from tobacco, alcohol and drug consumption] if you're going to make progress. If you let up, you can easily loose the progress that you've made," Hyland said.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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