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Teen smoking, drinking and drug use at all-time lows, and tough tobacco laws may be whyby Mike Denison

Smoking, drinking and drug use by American teens are all at all-time lows.

Authors of the annual Monitoring the Future survey believe the overall decline in smoking tobacco led to reduced use of other drugs. 

Only 1.8 percent of high school seniors said they smoked at least half a pack of cigarettes a day, compared to 11 percent in 1981. E-cigarettes also slipped a bit, from 16 percent to 12 percent. Researchers have long considered tobacco to be a "gateway drug" for other illicit habits.

By the numbers

  • Only 37.3 percent of high school seniors said they had been drunk at least once. That sounds like a lot, but that percentage peaked in 2001 at 52.3 percent.
  • Among 8th graders, marijuana use slipped slightly from 6.5 percent in 2015 to 5.4 percent this year. 
  • Use of other illegal drugs hit an all-time low.
  • Prescription painkiller abuse has dropped -- Vicodin use fell to 2.9 percent this year.

While marijuana use is down overall, it's not the case among older teens. High school seniors are using marijuana at about the same rate as last year.

What's behind this?

Tobacco is declining in popularity as a gateway drug, but some experts think the spread of social media and video games have kept teens at home, making them less vulnerable to peer pressure and bad decisions.

But Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse which funded the study, said substituting drugs and alcohol for video games might amount to merely swapping one dangerous behavior for another, because they could be similarly addictive.

The DEA was pleased with the results, but wasn't fully satisfied.