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Youth Survey Shows Increase In Use Of E-Cigarettes In Arizona

Sheila Polk
Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk in 2018.

The rate of e-cigarette use among young people has increased since two years ago. Traditional cigarettes, meanwhile, have seen less use over time.

New numbers on youth drug use come from the Arizona Youth Survey, a biennial survey of 8th, 10th and 12th graders across the state. It was released Monday by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

With those three grades combined, 19.9 percent of respondents said they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, compared with 4.8 percent using traditional cigarettes.

Broken down by grade, 26.1 percent of 12th graders said they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, along with 21.3 percent of 10th graders and 13.5 percent of 8th graders. Those grades all saw much lower e-cigarette use in 2016, the first year students were asked about e-cigarettes.

“It is a startling statistic that cannot be ignored,” said Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk. “Especially when you consider that those who begin smoking early in life are more likely to develop a severe nicotine addiction.”

Last month, the federal Food and Drug Administration announced plans to restrict sales of flavored e-cigarettes to stores with a separate room requiring proof of age to enter. Among other actions, the FDA also plans to tighten verification for online sales.

The Arizona Youth Survey, conducted in the spring of 2018, asked more than 48,708 8th, 10th and 12th graders about substance use and other risky behavior. The survey is anonymous and optional. Students from 245 schools across Arizona answered the survey, done in collaboration with Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

In an interview after the presentation, ASU’s Dustin Pardini said this year’s survey had the largest sample anywhere looking at how often middle and high school students used concentrated forms of marijuana.

Looking back over a 30 day period, 17.9 percent of 12th graders said they had used marijuana concentrates like hash oil or wax, along with 13.5 percent of 10th graders and 6.5 percent of 8th graders. Students were not asked about marijuana concentrates in 2016 or 2014.

You can find the full report here.

The information in the report may be used to design or change drug prevention programs currently funded by the state or federal government.

“We use these survey results to develop our own proposals for federal grant applications, for marketing initiatives and for community presentations,” said Maria Cristina Fuentes, the director of the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family.  

Pardini said the most effective anti-drug intervention happens in the transition between elementary school and middle school.

“You have a lot more peers coming together, you’re going to be switching friendship groups to a certain extent,” he said, noting that he thinks having prevention conversations with 10th graders and their parents is too late.

“I see it over and over again,” he said about prevention programs of unknown quality due to the lack of a 'control group' of students who don’t get the program. That would allow researchers to compare results. Pardini advocated for proven, empirically-tested programs, like the Coping Power program out of the University of Alabama.

“There’s a desire to do programs that people think are effective, and they might be, but we have these programs that we know are effective that should be used as the first line of defense.”

Bret Jaspers was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2017 to 2020.