MONTPELIER, Vt. — The percentage of Vermont high school students who drink and smoke has dropped, according to a new survey released Wednesday, but alcohol use remains high and marijuana use is a concern.
The 2011 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior said 60 percent of high school students reported ever drinking compared to 66 percent in 2009 and 82 percent in 1993. The survey also showed the percentage of students who smoked in the past 30 days dropped to 13 percent last year, from 18 percent in 2009 and 40 percent in 1995.
"The 2011 survey results are very encouraging as they show a significant shift in how serious young people are in terms of avoiding risky behaviors. They're making the right choices," said Health Commissioner Harry Chen.
But the state needs to address young Vermonters' use of marijuana and their perceptions about the drug, which contains some of the same destructive carcinogenic ingredients as tobacco smoke and affects mental functions, Chen said.
The survey shows that 39 percent of high school students have used marijuana, with 24 percent using it in the last 30 days, the same rate as in 2009.
"Clearly we have a long way to go on many of these issues, but I'm happy to report significant progress," Chen said of the overall survey results.
The greatest progress was seen in the declines in alcohol and tobacco use among ninth graders, he said.
"We know that patterns established early in life matter. That the decision, the first decision that students make to smoke, to drink or to use drugs can cause irreparable harm. Addictions become lifelong bad habits," he said.
The Health Department attributes the drop in alcohol and tobacco use to efforts by students and community coalitions, marketing campaigns, and a cultural shift among Vermont students.
For example, a student-led campaign called "Audacious" in the Twin Valley High School in Wilmington organizes alcohol-free events and says two out of three students at the school don't drink.
Chen also noted that for the first time this year, the survey asked students if they feel valued by people in their communities. Fifty-five percent said yes, compared to 47 percent in 2009.
The survey was taken by more than 36,000 students in both middle and high school in 138 schools.