Teenagers Are Smoking and Drinking Less Than Ever Before

Cannabis consumption is up since the early 1990s but still substantially lower than in the '70s.


Monitoring the Future Study

According to survey data released today, drinking and cigarette smoking are less common among teenagers today than at any point in the last four decades. In this year's Monitoring the Future (MTF) Study, which is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, 35.3 percent of high school seniors reported that they had consumed alcohol in the previous month, compared to 68.2 percent in 1975, when the survey began. Past-month cigarette smoking fell from 36.7 percent to 11.4 percent during the same period.

Monitoring the Future Study

The continued decline in smoking belies warnings that the rising popularity of electronic cigarettes would boost consumption of the real thing. MTF, which first asked about e-cigarettes in 2014, found them a bit less popular this year: Past-month use rose from 8.7 percent to 9.5 percent among eighth-graders but fell from 16.2 percent to 14 percent among 10th-graders and from 17.1 percent to 16.2 percent among 12th-graders. But in the National Youth Tobacco Survey, which is sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaping and smoking trends have been moving in opposite directions for several years.

The share of 12th-graders reporting heroin use in the previous year also has fallen sharply since 1975, from 1 percent to 0.5 percent. MTF, like the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, indicates that heroin use among teenagers has been flat or declining in recent years, although the latter survey shows an increase in other age groups.

MTF indicates that cannabis consumption by teenagers this year is about as common as last year, with 21 percent of high school seniors reporting past-month use. That rate is 79 percent higher than in 1992 but still 38 percent lower than in 1978, when a record 37 percent of 12th-graders said they had smoked pot in the previous month. Compared to the early 1990s, teenagers are more likely to be cannabis consumers but less likely to be drinkers or cigarette smokers, which in terms of health hazards is probably a good tradeoff.

Notably, marijuana use by teenagers generally has been flat or falling since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize cannabis for recreational use (by adults 21 or older). Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia followed suit last year.

"Youth marijuana use is stable, and even falling in some categories, all while a growing number of states enact legalization," says Betty Aldworth, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "This new data solidifies early indications that the scare tactics peddled by prohibitionists are false. Criminalization isn't the way to encourage young people to make healthy choices; regulating a legal market and honest, reality-based education is. That fact is made even more clear by the continued reduction in youth tobacco and alcohol use. We didn't need to put anyone in handcuffs or jail cells to convince an historic number of students to avoid smoking and drinking. These reductions were achieved with honest, evidence-based public health strategies and not by criminalizing cigarettes or beer. Drug use is a health matter and should be treated that way."

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  1. So teenagers don’t drink and don’t smoke? What do they do?

    1. Rainbow parties.

      Does butt-chugging count as drinking?

      1. Why is it the moral panics are always more risque than the truth?

        1. I can think of 2 big reasons. People tend to think that other people are having all the fun. And everyone wants a turn to rant about kids these days.

          1. When I was a teenager, I was distinctly told to never attend one of those wonderful sounding rainbow parties. Imagine my disappointment to find out they were a myth.

    2. Based on totally unscientific anecdotal evidence, I think they’re hitting prescription drugs more than we did.

        1. ….Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol

  2. What I find interesting about that graph is that if you plot the individual cohort in two year increments, you’ll see a trend of increasing usage with age.

    ie, go from the ’96 8th grade, look two years to the right on the 10th grade graph and it’s higher, two more years to the right on the 12th grade and it’s higher still across both substances. Since this is “past month” usage that means more keep adopting these usage habits and pass them on to their peers.

    Not sure where I’m going with this thought. It is not surprising though.

    1. That’s what I’d expect to see, I think. I think it’s pretty obviously the case that as teenagers get older they are more likely to partake of various intoxicants.

  3. Doug Stanhope would call all these kids fuckin pussies.

    1. Then cough up half a lung and tell funny stories about his divorce.

  4. Morons. How do they expect to ever be cool?

    1. Air conditioning?

      /clueless teen

    2. By getting a lot of followers on their Tumbler

      that, or taking some unpopular kid out into the woods and murdering them for slender man.

  5. I blame video games.
    Stupid kids.

  6. well this explains the rise of the hipsters

    1. I don’t know about smoking, but drinking is huge among hipsters. How else can they stand to look at that ironic facial hair every day?

      1. Yeah, but it’s kind of hard to get drunk on PBR.

    2. In my day, the hipsters were at least good at partying. I can’t imagine that’s changed any.

      1. Huh, in my day there were no hipsters, only sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, vatos, cholos, dickheads.

        They were all vying for position.

        1. Impressive Edie McClurg reference.

          1. The funny thing is, that’s the way it was, which is why that line was so perfect. I had to add a couple for my regional particulars.

  7. So, I guess my cohort really was special. I like to claim some credit for the upward trend in the early to mid ’90s.

    In 8th grade I remember doing a head count of stoners and it was already around 10% of the class. And there was shit loads of good LSD for like $2. Tail end of Gen-X rules.

    1. +1 dose of Molly

    2. In my high school class of around 170, I recall counting with my buddies the number of students who didn’t smoke pot. I think we concluded it was around 8 or 9.

      1. By the end of high school, I’m sure it was hard to find anyone who didn’t at least fall into the “past month use” category.

  8. There’s no need to even look at the data since the conclusion is the same either way.

    If drug use is down, we are winning the war on drugs and need to fight harder.
    If drug use is up, we we losing the war on drugs and need to fight harder.

  9. After Chapman’s anti-Cruz/pro-AGW turd, I was worried that Reason had forgotten its bread and butter.

    Let the millenial polls and Trump articles recommence!

  10. The early 90s (as I “remember” them) was all about smoking weed (etc.) so it’s hard to believe it’s up from there.

    1. Cannabis consumption is up since the early 1990s but still substantially lower than in the ’70s.

      When weed was pretty much smoked openly despite it being illegal.

      1. Remember the fabulous 70’s?

        Actually my memories are rather hazy.

  11. What’s the world coming to, if you can’t even expect an average teenager to smoke in the alley across from the high school or water down his parent’s bourbon in the basement?

    In all seriousness though, this is what we get from the drug war, DARE, helicopter parenting, zero tolerance, the list goes on. Not a “victory,” but a bunch of freakin’ wimps who think they’re being good upstanding citizens by ratting out their friends because they have a couple of loosies in their backpack. These are the same pussies who “grow up” to be micro-aggressed college students, and eventually (dear god help us) hipsters.

    1. Oh yeah, and get off my lawn!

    2. It’s the Everything is Awesome! generation. Everyone gets straight A’s on the report card and is told that they can do whatever they feel like when they grow up and whatever it is, it will make the world better because they are such a smart and caring person. Plus, this future will have all of the material trappings of a yuppie lifestyle, but none of the guilt, because they care about social issues. Therefore, Everything is Awesome!

      Although, I wonder if RC Dean’s prescription drug speculation plays a role.

      1. When you’re on Ritalin and Xanex, everything is awesome.

    3. It’s harsh to call them “wimps” when they are cowering in real, justified fear. Today’s kids have grown up in a police state, and like a woman trapped in a marriage to a violent abuser, they walk through their lives on eggshells lest they incur the wrath of the Authorities. They’ve lived with Zero Tolerance, police stationed in their schools, seen their grade school classmates dragged off in handcuffs for violating rules that didn’t exist a couple of decades ago, have learned they must carefully watch their words and the images in their artwork, must avoid physical contact on the playground, and know they will be drugged if they don’t conform in the classroom. They face living and working in a world with background checks all the way into the womb; drug testing, psychological exams, and criminal background checks for even menial employment; and extremely harsh consequences for even trivial offenses, such as loss of drivers’ licenses and professional licenses, restrictions on where they can live, ruinous civil forfeiture, civil commitment, deportation, “no fly” listing, etc. Young people today who have hopes of a good life with successful careers live with the knowledge that the slightest misstep, or what we used to call “youthful indiscretions”, can destroy their dreams forever, or even their ability to survive at all. It’s hardly surprising that an increasing proportion of them are “pussies” about risking behaviors like drug and alcohol use.

      1. Excellent point. You wrote what I was thinking, but couldn’t convey clearly. It’s that the Top Men actually want to have a subservient peasantry. We have the illusion of control because, hey, we get to vote! But it’s become rigged in favor of the subservient peasants voting for those who promise them the most alms/free stuff and make them feel all warm and cozy protected by benevolent stormtroopers (who won’t hesitate to crack heads and shoot puppies if the peasantry gets out of line). Did I just stumble upon what makes “The Hunger Games” so wildly popular, especially among the little snowflakes?

      2. I see that no one has Godwin-ed this thread yet, so here goes:

        You know who else kept the population in fear with a police state…

  12. I am disappointed that the alcohol and cigarette usage are graphed but marijuana usage is not despite being mentioned in the title.

  13. Just noticed something on the graphs: while my cohort falls embarrassingly behind our forebears in alcohol consumption, we are responsible for the slight recovery in the early ’90’s before everything fell apart again later. Also proud to claim the spike in tobacco usage. I gotta think these were both FYTW responses to the very early stages of DARE and other indoctrination programs that were just getting started when we were coming up through the re-education camps grade school.

  14. What a boring generation.

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