It’s definitely not time to declare victory in the effort to get Wyoming teenagers to stop drinking and smoking. There are many more youths to reach.
But the statistics are pointing in a very positive direction, and that’s an excellent trend.
Data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) show big changes in teens’ behavior in the state between 1995 and 2011.
n The percentage of high school students who had at least one drink
of alcohol on one or more of the past 30 days went from 52.1 percent to
n Binge drinking among high school students decreased from 38.1 percent to 25.1 percent.
There were similar changes from 1995-2011 in the number of teens who smoke:
n Percentage of students who smoked one or more cigarettes on one of more of the past 30 days went from 39.5 percent to 22 percent.
n Those who smoked on school property in the past month dropped from 17.2 percent to 7.1 percent (though it has been relatively stable since 2005).
The statistics, of course, don’t tell the entire story. The data doesn’t take into account how many teens have significant addictions to alcohol, either on a daily basis or from binge drinking, or those who smoke numerous cigarettes throughout the day.
It also does not factor in the high usage of smokeless tobacco (knows as chew, snuff or dip) among Wyoming youths. A 2009 survey by the U.S. Center for Disease Control found that the state has the nation’s highest use rate among high school students: 16.2 percent. That’s nearly twice the national average.
But while there’s more work to be done to decrease teens’ smokeless tobacco use, the YRBS does capture a snapshot of how many Wyoming teens abstain from drinking and smoking, and those numbers are higher than many adults might expect. What has made the positive difference in the past 15 years?
Rodney Wambeam, Ph.D., of the University of Wyoming’s Survey & Analysis Center, explained that a number of strategies have been used to target teens.
Wambeam, who grew up in Wyoming and has worked as a prevention researcher here for the past decade, said, “Wyoming’s culture around alcohol and especially underage drinking has changed. Adults no longer see underage drinking as a rite of passage but a problem with serious consequences.”
According to Wambeam, the state’s substance abuse prevention efforts received a significant boost when Wyoming received a State Incentive Grant in 2001. The funds helped establish comprehensive programs that combined education with compliance checks to make sure businesses weren’t selling alcohol and tobacco to minors.
More funding came in 2005-10 from the Strategic Framework State Incentive grant program.
Tobacco prevention efforts benefited from the influx of money from the state tobacco settlement in 1998. Wyoming is one of five states that spend 50 percent or more of the CDC’s control levels on tobacco prevention programs.
Marc Homer, Kids Count director of the Laramie-based Wyoming Children’s Action Alliance, said there has been a shift in the way people are thinking about the intersection between youth, drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
“I think the risks are more readily understood,” said Homer, who credits prevention programs with helping to make a difference. “There is good education about that.”
There are many societal benefits from teens not starting these bad habits. They will likely continue to abstain as they get older, and should experience healthier lives as adults — and also be good role models for their own children to follow.
Fewer people with diseases related to alcohol or smoking addictions, of course, could help reduce the nation’s soaring health care costs.
It’s good to see that Wyoming’s substance abuse prevention efforts are making a difference. Based on the decreases in teen smoking and drinking the state has experienced, these programs need to have continued strong support from state and local officials, health organizations and providers, and our communities.