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Survey: More Students Turn To E-Cigs Over Traditional Cigarettes

A survey of risky behavior among Arizona youth shows alcohol use has dropped in the past four years.

State leaders are concerned about increasingly relaxed attitudes and usage of marijuana.

More than 57,000 students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades in each of Arizona’s 15 counties are represented in the Arizona Youth Survey. The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission produces the report every two years.

"What we know from this survey is that our teens continue to perceive at a very high rate that using marijuana is not a risky behavior," said Sheila Polk, the Yavapai County attorney who helped established that county’s substance-abuse prevention group.

This increases as students get older.

While 23 percent of eighth-graders think there’s little risk in smoking marijuana once or twice a week. More than half of 12th-graders think it’s no big deal.

As for students who reported using it in the last month, that rate increased slightly to 14.2 percent.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery says part of the problem is legal medicinal marijuana use in Arizona and legal recreational use elsewhere has changed how it’s perceived.

“For decades we’ve been telling youth that using illegal drugs is harmful to them, and then we as a community has turned around and basically backtracked on that message to make excuses and exceptions for some drugs,” Montgomery said.

First time survey of e-cigarette use

Fewer than one in ten Arizona youth reports regularly using cigarettes, but state officials are worried about the rise in popularity of e-cigarette use.

By senior year of high school, 37 percent of Arizona students say they’ve tried an e-cig compared with 33 percent who’ve smoked a traditional cigarette. In fact, more students have vaped than smoked a tobacco cigarette in eighth, 10th and 12th grade.

“We’ve done a lot of work on trying to reduce the use of cigarettes in our youth, and we’ve introduced a new concept and a new product and I think the concern we’re seeing as we begin looking at this is is this going to bring another generation of students back into the smoking habit,” said Andrew LeFevre, executive director of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, which compiles the survey.

To read more about Arizona youths and gangs, prescriptions drug use and bullying, read the full reportfrom the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.