More teens vaping, but survey also shows problems continue with suicides, bullying
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Cigarette use is being snuffed out but vaping is definitely rising among students.
Local school districts are all concerned about the vaping trend shown in school-by-school Healthy Youth Survey data released in March.
In Snohomish County, 2,029 sixth graders, 3,772 eighth graders, 3,561 10th graders and 2,793 12th graders participated in the voluntary and anonymous bi-annual survey. Many of them were struggling with substance use, eating and sleeping enough and staying safe.
Vaping has doubled among county 10th graders. In 2018’s survey, 22.6 percent of sophomores said they currently vaped. In the 2016 survey, the figure was 11.3 percent. Half the students who vape said they do so at school. Among high school seniors, the vaping rate is 30 percent.
Compact vaping devices, such as Juuls, are easy to conceal. A single liquid pod in kid-friendly fruit flavors can contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, although about 1 in 4 who vape say they are vaping liquids without nicotine. Many teens believe vaping is safer than smoking tobacco, but that is not scientifically proven.
Smoking continued to decline among youth. Just under 5 percent of sophomores said they currently smoke, compared to 6.7 percent in 2016 and 7.2 percent in 2014.
Marijuana use, including smoking, vaping and consuming drug-infused foods, increased from 15.5 percent to 17.3 percent for the same grade, but remained generally steady compared to results of 16 percent in 2014 and 18.5 percent in 2012.
Current alcohol use increased sharply with age, from 2.4 percent among sixth graders to 7.4 percent of eighth graders, 17.5 of sophomores and 26.8 of seniors. Meanwhile, about six percent of 10th graders, the highest reported users of any grade, said they had used an illegal narcotic other than marijuana in the past 30 days.
New proposed legislation may hinder the increase in vaping. A bill expected to be signed by Gov. Jay Inslee raises the state’s minimum age to buy tobacco or vaping products to 21 starting Jan. 1. Without high school seniors legally able to buy the products, most younger students who bum or buy from older friends would find their sources shut off.
Mental health and bullying
In an alarming statistic, nine percent of 10th graders — about 320 students — reported they had attempted suicide. Nearly four in 10 said they had been severely depressed. One in four said they didn’t have any adults to turn to when feeling hopeless.
Countywide, one in five sophomores — about 710 students — said they were bullied at school in the past month. Bullying reports dipped in the 2018 survey. About 9 percent said they were bullied due to their sexual orientation. Race or ethnicity was the cause of bullying for about 11 percent of 10th graders, according to the survey. About one in seven students from eighth to 12th grades also said they were regularly cursed at, insulted or humiliated at home.
Substance use and mental health concerns are always high priority callouts from the Healthy Youth Survey, but diet and sleep impact the largest number of students.
More than a third of eighth graders aren’t eating breakfast and the percentage rises to nearly half of high school students surveyed.
More than half of eighth graders said they didn’t get eight hours of sleep a night. The same was true of three-fourths of 10th graders and nearly 85 percent of 12th graders.
At almost every level, roughly one in seven youth was obese, and another one in seven was overweight, an all-time high.
“Looking at data is always scary. You put years and years of work into this and (wonder) what if things got worse? What I’m most proud of is work we’ve done around suicide prevention. Attempted suicide rates in 2016 were our highest rate ever, very scary. We worked really hard to build a tiered support system,” said Joe Neigel, the prevention services manager for the Monroe School District.
In the district, 6.7 percent of 10th graders reported attempting suicide compared to 17.1 percent there in 2016.
“Overall, things have almost never been better here,” Neigel said of the results.
Administrators in the Snohomish and Everett school districts have yet to dive deep into their district-specific results but issued brief statements in response to questions about vaping and other trends.
“The district uses the results to broadly help us as we continually plan programs to support our youth and reduce their risks,” said Snohomish School District spokeswoman Kristin Foley, who called county results concerning.
In Everett “students receive health education related to the use of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and e-cigarettes” said spokeswoman Diane Bradford. In high schools, intervention specialists help students grapple with drug, alcohol and tobacco use and abuse issues.
More county data from the survey is available at www.snohd.org/308/Healthy-Youth-Survey-Data.
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