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High School Smoking Down

Survey Shows Drop In Drinking, Rise In Sexual Activity

June 7, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

Fewer Connecticut high school students are smoking these days, with the number using cigarettes dropping by about half over the past eight years, according to a state report being released today.

The report also found that teenagers are less likely to drink alcohol or use inhalants to get high than they were in 1997, the last time the state completed a full-scale survey of youth risk behaviors.

Despite those declines, the number of students reporting other forms of risky behavior remained high, or showed increases in some areas. Sexual activity increased slightly, while threats involving weapons jumped as well.

"I think we're moving in the right direction in many areas," said Bonnie J. Edmondson, a health and nutrition consultant with the state Department of Education. "However, we still have a ways to go."

The most dramatic changes involve smoking. About one in six high school students, or 17 percent, reported smoking cigarettes in 2005, down from 35 percent eight years earlier and below the most recent national average of 22 percent, according to the Connecticut School Health Survey.

"In the '50s and '60s it was a cool thing to do, but now it isn't," said Rebecca Crosswaith, 18, a senior at Newington High School and a student member of the State Board of Education, which is scheduled to review the survey at a meeting in Hartford this afternoon.

"At least in my school, you hear students say, `Oh, I don't smoke - that's stupid,'" she said.

Smoking also declined among students at middle schools, where six percent reported smoking on the 2005 survey, compared with 10 percent on a similar survey of tobacco use among middle school students five years earlier.

Today's report is a compilation of two surveys, one sampling middle school and high school students on tobacco use, and another asking high school students about a variety of potential health risks, including alcohol and drug abuse. About 6,600 students took part in the surveys.

In the survey, 46 percent of high school students said they had at least one alcoholic drink, and 28 percent said they had consumed five or more drinks within a few hours during the previous month. That is down from 53 percent and 31 percent, respectively, in 1997.

In addition, 30 percent said that within the previous month they had ridden in a car driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol. That compares with 38 percent in the 1997 survey.

Eleven percent reported using inhalants, such as sniffing glue, to get high, compared with 19 percent eight years earlier.

Although statistics from the latest nationwide Youth Risk Behavior Survey are not scheduled for release until later this week, the patterns of student behavior in Connecticut parallel national figures in most areas, officials said.

However, Connecticut students were somewhat more likely to report attempted suicide and dating violence than in the national survey, according to today's report. The survey found that about one in eight students in the state reported attempting suicide in the previous year, compared with one in 11 in 1997.

One in six students reported being hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. A comparative number for 1997 was not available.

The survey by the state education and public health departments will be given again next year.

Diane Aye, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Public Health, said she is encouraged by some of the latest findings, particularly the reduction in smoking. "There is a lot of negative social pressure out there regarding smoking," she said. "People recognize the significant association between smoking and health - and that message is getting to teenagers."

She also cited the significance of finding a lower level of risky behavior among teenagers who said their parents regularly kept track of where they were. The survey said teenagers who reported being involved with after-school activities and jobs, or who were under regular supervision were less likely to engage in behaviors considered risky to their well-being.

"It gives a lot of ammunition for the nagging parents out there," she said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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