Tobacco and alcohol use down among teens - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Tobacco and alcohol use down among teens

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The number of kids in our state smoking and drinking is trending downward, that's according to a report by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

DPI looked at data collected through the Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey. It asks high school students questions related to traffic safety, weapons and violence, suicide, tobacco use, alcohol and other drugs, sexual behaviors, nutrition and physical exercise.

Steve Fernan, the assistant director of the Student Services Team at DPI, says students' tobacco use saw a huge drop.

"The results are nothing short of phenomenal," Fernan said. "When we started looking at the student tobacco use rates 20 years ago, about 32 percent, about one in three students, reported they had smoked in the last thirty days, that's down to 12 percent. So from one in three, to one in eight students being a regular smoker."

Fernan says tobacco prevention activities in school, along with smoke-free laws and cigarette tax increases, have had a positive impact on use.

In addition to declines in tobacco use, trends over 20 years show students' alcohol use and binge drinking are on a downward trend.

"We're seeing the same kind of trends, maybe not quite as quick of decline as tobacco, but certainly still in the right direction," Fernan said.

Fernan said more comprehensive education programs in schools are really helping teach students about the dangers of alcohol and drug use. But he says it can't stop there.

"We can't take our foot off the gas," Fernan said. "One of the dangers is when numbers start turning in the right direction, we tend to cut back and stop spending money. We need to continue to spend that money."

The survey also found declines in fighting, carrying weapons, suicidal thoughts, and sexual activity. Students have also increased their seatbelt use and their physical activity.

Fernan says there were some troubling results though. They include more texting while driving and problems with bullying and harassment.

The 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey  was administered to 2,843 students in 53 public schools last spring. It's conducted as part of a national effort by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor health risk behaviors of the nation's high school students.

Fernan joined us on 27 News at 5 on Monday.

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