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Wednesday, March 5, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Fewer kids are smoking or drinking, figures show

Seattle Times staff reporter

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• Toll-free quit-line numbers: 877-270-STOP, 877-2 NO FUME (Spanish language) and 877-777-6534 (hearing impaired)

• Visit the youth Web site at www.unfilteredtv.com

• Find out more at the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program at www.doh.wa.gov/Tobacco/

Washington youngsters are saying no to cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana in growing numbers, according to early results from a state survey.

In releasing the report card on kids' health at a news conference yesterday, Secretary of the Department of Health Mary Selecky attributed the decline in risky behaviors to the state's ramped-up prevention efforts, especially in the realm of tobacco use.

"About 53,000 fewer kids are smoking since we began the tobacco-control program," Selecky said, referring to the $100 million effort funded by Washington's share of the national tobacco settlement.

The state program funds a tobacco quit line, school-based activities and a series of aggressive television and billboard ads featuring jarring images of charred lungs and gravestones with the message "Tobacco smokes you."

Since the tobacco-prevention program began in 2000, smoking has dropped from 4.7 percent to 2.2 percent among sixth-graders, from 15.2 percent to 9.2 percent for eighth-graders, from 25 percent to 15 percent for 10th-graders and from 35.2 percent to 22.7 percent for 12th-graders, according to the survey.

Miles Good, a 17-year-old student at Chief Sealth High School in West Seattle, said he has witnessed classmates dropping the habit. "Smokers' Hill outside the school used to have a hundred kids out there my freshman year; now there's maybe less than 10," said Good, who works as a peer-educator with Teens Against Tobacco Use and attended the news conference.

Still, 55 kids in Washington start smoking cigarettes every day and the use of other tobacco products, which haven't yet been targeted by the state campaign — including cigars, flavored Indian "bidis," pipes and chewing tobacco — is creeping up, the survey said.

The Health Youth Survey, conducted in the fall of 2002, tracked risk behaviors and attitudes among 137,000 students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 from across the state. A sample of 25,000 kids was used for the state's analysis.

The survey is a joint effort of the Department of Health, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.

The numbers are compared to questions asked in surveys conducted in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Only preliminary findings were released yesterday. The complete report is due in May.

The number of students reporting alcohol use at least once in the 30 days before the survey dropped across all the age groups. For instance, among 10th-graders, 30-day alcohol use dropped from 37.6 percent in 1998 to 29.3 percent last year.

Binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in a row, also dropped. And since 1998, use of marijuana declined by 13 percent among eighth-graders and 16 percent among 10th-graders; the incidence among high school seniors remained steady over the past few years.

Sixth-graders bucked some of the positive trends seen with older kids, showing slight increases in use of alcohol, marijuana and inhalants.

"This shows the amount of experimentation among sixth-graders is still increasing," said Linda Becker, a researcher with the DSHS's Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse.

In what Dennis Braddock, secretary of the DSHS, called a "growing concern," use of methamphetamine among eighth-graders rose from 1.2 percent in 2000 to 2.1 percent in 2002; other age groups saw no significant change in the drug's use.

Other findings:

• Kids of all grades surveyed reported it was harder for them to get alcohol in 2002 than in 2000.

• About 15 percent to 20 percent of students in grades 10 or 12 reported that they had seriously considered suicide in the past year. That rate has remained constant since 1995.

• About 90 percent of 10th- and 12th-graders reported wearing a seat belt most or all of the time when riding in a car in 2002, up from 80 percent in 1999.

• Nearly one in four 10th- and 12th-graders reported that during the past 30 days they had been passengers in a car driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol, a statistic unchanged from surveys in the 1990s.

• Between 80 percent and 90 percent of kids of all age groups feel safe at school, up about 10 percent from several years ago. Most reported they had not been bullied by another student in the previous month and fewer than 10 percent of students reported having carried a weapon to school.

Julia Sommerfeld: 206-464-2708 or jsommerfeld@seattletimes.com

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