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Our View:Kentucky students trading one bad habit for another

Survey results indicated Kentucky students might be trading one risky behavior for another.

According to the Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey, fewer students are smoking cigarettes, but many more are turning to e-cigarettes and vaping products.

The Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is conducted as part of a national effort by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) to monitor students’ health-risk behaviors in six priority areas. These six areas include injury and violence, alcohol and drug use, tobacco use, nutrition, physical activity and sexual risk behaviors.

Kentucky has been administering the YRBS since 1997. The survey is voluntary and is administered to a randomly-selected sample of middle and high school students across the state.

According to the survey, there was a nearly 10 percent decrease from 2017 (40.5 percent) to 2019 (30.6 percent) in the number of high school students who have ever tried smoking.

Of those who had tried smoking, 11.8 percent tried for the first time before they were 13 years old, down from 15.5 percent in 2017.

Only about 8 percent of high school students reported being current cigarette smokers (smoked on at least one day in the 30 days before the survey) and only 3 percent reported smoking cigarettes frequently (on 20 or more days during the 30 days before the survey), while 2.2 percent reported smoking cigarettes daily.

Among middle schoolers, smoking behaviors increased, with 16.5 percent having tried smoking, up from 12.1 percent in 2017.

About 8 percent had tried smoking prior to turning 11 years old. Less then 5 percent (4.3) currently smoked cigarettes, but that number was up from 2.7 percent in 2017. Less than 1 percent reported smoking cigarettes frequently or daily.

However, use of vaping and cigarettes nearly doubled, according to the survey. Those products included things like e-cigarettes, e-cigars, e-pipes, vaping pens, hookah pens, etc.

Among high schools students, 26.1 percent reported currently using these products, up from 14.1 percent in 2017 and 23.4 percent in 2015.

About 11 percent reported using these products regularly, up from 2.7 percent in 2017, and 8.7 percent reporting using them daily, up from 1.9 percent in 2017.

Among middle schoolers, 31.4 percent reported having ever used a vaping product, up from 15.1 percent in 2017 and 21.8 percent in 2015. About 17 percent use vaping products currently, with 2 percent using them frequently, and 1.2 percent using them daily.

Some other interesting findings from the survey are:

— More students are choosing to wear their seatbelt, with a steady increase from 1997 to 2019. According to the survey, only 7.8 percent of high school students students answered that they rarely or never wore a seat belt while riding in a car driven by someone else, down from 9.1 percent in 2015 and 8.7 percent in 2018; 6.1 percent of middle school students said they rarely or never wore a seatbelt.

— There was a slight increase in the number of students who drive while impaired. In 2019, 4.2 percent of high school said they drove a car or vehicle when they had been drinking alcohol, up from 3.9 percent in 2017, but down from the 5.9 percent high in 2015. Additionally, 16.7 percent of middle school students reported having ridden in a car with someone who was impaired by alcohol.

— About a third of high school students (32.2 percent) said they texted or e-mailed while driving a car or other vehicle, down from 34.7 percent in 2017 and 36.5 percent in 2015.

— Less than 10 percent of high school students reported being victim to sexual (6.8 percent) or physical (7.4) dating violence.

— Almost a fourth of high school students (23.8 percent) and nearly half (44.6 percent) of middle school students reported being bullied on school property in the last 12 months, while 18 percent of high schoolers and 25 percent of middle schoolers reported being bullied electronically (through texting or social media).

— About 8 percent of high schoolers and 9 percent of middle schoolers had attempted suicide, with 3 percent of those cases requiring treatment at a hospital.

— About 15 percent of high schoolers reported trying their first drink of alcohol before age 13, and 23.5 percent report being current drinkers (having drunk in the 30 days prior to the survey). Additionally, 10 percent reported binge drinking during the 30 days prior to the survey. About a fourth of middle schoolers (22.9 percent) had tried alcohol before.

— About a third of high school students (31.9 percent) had used marijuana; 11 percent had used prescription pain medications without a doctor’s prescription or differently than a doctor told them to use it; 3.5 percent had tried cocaine; 2.2 percent had injected illegal drugs; and 1.8 percent had tried heroin. Nearly a 10th (9.5 percent) of middle schoolers had tried marijuana and taken prescription pain medication without a prescription or differently than prescribed (9.1 percent).

— More than a third of high school students (39.2 percent) had had sexual intercourse, and 8.5 percent had intercourse with four or more people during their life. Nearly a third (28.7 percent) were currently sexually active. Only about half (52.6 percent) used condoms during their most recent sexual intercourse. About 8 percent of middle schoolers had had sexual intercourse.

The 194-page report is chock full of useful and eye-opening information about today’s youth. It can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/sd586jv.

In regards to the e-cigarette and vaping use, it is unsettling to see that teens are turning away from one dangerous habit (smoking) and toward another (vaping).

Much research about the negative impacts of vaping remains to be done.

Students are inflicting potential harm on themselves without all the facts present to make an informed decision about this risky behavior.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that e-cigaretts are unsafe for teens, kids and young adults. Mostly because they contain nicotine, a highly-addictive substance than can harm brain development up into the early- to mid-20s. A recent CDC study found that 99 percent of the e-cigarettes sold in assessed venues in the United States contained nicotine. They can contain other harmful substances, too, the CDC reports.

“Using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control,” according to the CDC.

Additionally, the CDC predicts young people who use e-cigarettes will be more likely to smoke as adults.

While this data can be informative and sometimes startling, it is important that is it put to use.

Looking at these numbers, particularly related to teen vaping use, it is clear more efforts need to be made to inform teens, school officials and parents about the dangers of these products.

Legislative efforts should also continue to look at ways to curb vaping use among teens and adults in Kentucky, where we are already plagued by the negative impacts of smoking and tobacco use.

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board. The board comprises publisher Michael Caldwell and Bluegrass Newsmedia editors Whitney Leggett and Ben Kleppinger. To inquire about a meeting with the board, contact Caldwell at 759-0095.