Adolescent Cigarette Smoking Holds at Lowest Recorded Levels

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Cigarette smoking among adolescents in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades has remained at the lowest levels recorded by the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey since its inception 35 years ago. However, adolescents' use of smokeless tobacco increased significantly, to levels not seen since 2001. The 2009 MTF survey also found that use of illicit drugs, including marijuana, had not changed significantly since 2008. This adds to earlier evidence that the downward trend in teen marijuana use evident from the late 1990s through 2007 has stalled.

The prevalence of past-month cigarette smoking was 12.7 percent in 2009, a 55-percent decline from the peak years of 1996 and 1997, when 28.3 percent of adolescents reported smoking.

The prevalence of past-month smokeless tobacco use rose from 4.9 percent in 2008 to 6 percent in 2009. That rate had hovered around 5 percent since 2002. Even so, the 2009 rate is 38 percent lower than that of the peak years of the mid-1990s.

In 2007, abuse of methamphetamine had dropped to its lowest levels since the drug was added to the survey in 1999, and it remained at that low level in 2009. For example, among 12th-graders, past-month abuse rates fell from 1.7 percent in 1999 to 0.5 percent in 2009; past-year abuse rates dropped from 4.7 percent to 1.2 percent.

The MTF survey has documented a steady, long-term decrease in alcohol use, including binge drinking, across the three grades. However, only the 8th-graders showed a continuation of this decline in 2009. "They are the youngest and most vulnerable students in the survey, so that would be the place we would want to see the decline," says Dr. Marsha Lopez of NIDA's Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research.

Areas of Concern

The researchers assembled a list of the 13 drugs with the highest rates of abuse by 12th-graders. Eight of those drugs were prescription and over-the-counter medications. NIDA officials continued to express concern about the non-medical use of prescription drugs, particularly opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. "These drugs are very potent, very addictive when not used as intended," says NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. Abuse rates of prescription drugs have been steady since 2003 among the three grades surveyed, she adds.

Percentage of Students Reporting Past-Month Substance Abuse*
Any illicit drug 2001 2008 2009
All grades 19.4 14.6 15.8
8th grade 11.7 7.6 8.1
10th grade 22.7 15.8 17.8
12th grade 25.7 22.3 23.3
Cigarettes 2001 2008 2009
All grades 20.2 12.6 12.7
8th grade 12.2 6.8 6.5
10th grade 21.3 12.3 13.1
12th grade 29.5 20.4 20.1
Marijuana 2001 2008 2009
All grades 16.6 12.5 13.8
8th grade 9.2 5.8 6.5
10th grade 19.8 13.8 15.9
12th grade 22.4 19.4 20.6
Alcohol 2001 2008 2009
All grades 35.5 28.1 28.4
8th grade 21.5 15.9 14.9
10th grade 39.0 28.8 30.4
12th grade 49.8 43.1 43.5

* In this table, none of the differences between 2008 and 2009 are statistically significant.

In 2009, for the first time, the survey also queried students about nonmedical use of Adderall, a stimulant often prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Six percent of 10th-graders and 5 percent of 12th-graders said they had used the medication in the past year for purposes other than those for which it was prescribed.

Ecstasy, LSD, and inhalants are also of concern because of a softening of perceived risk associated with their use over the past several years. Generally, abuse rates for these drugs have not increased in the past decade, but a decline in perceived risk is considered an early warning sign of an increase in the near future, notes Dr. Lloyd Johnston of the University of Michigan, lead investigator of the survey.

The 2009 survey covered 46,097 students in 389 public and private schools across the Nation. Participants reported their use of various substances in the past month, past year, and their lifetime as well as their attitudes about drugs and their perceptions of harmfulness, availability, and peer disapproval. Further information and the full text of the survey are available on our Monitoring the Future information page and at