Trenton, NJ 08625-0360
November 18, 1999
Rita Manno or Marilyn Riley
TRENTON -- The number of seventh- and eighth-graders who smoke cigarettes has dropped 35 percent over the last four years, and alcohol and other drug use has also declined, according to the 1999 middle school survey on substance use released today by the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
The 1999 New Jersey Communities that Care Middle School Survey is the first follow-up survey of seventh- and eighth-graders since 1995, when the original survey was conducted. The department plans to conduct the survey annually to track trends in substance use and aid in planning effective prevention programs.
According to the survey, 13 percent of middle school students said they had used cigarettes in the last month, compared with 20 percent in 1995. Alcohol use dropped by nearly 17 percent, from 30 percent in 1995 to 25 percent this year. The use of marijuana and inhalants has declined, although those substances are not as widely used.
"The health of our young people is critical to New Jersey's quality of life," said Governor Christie Whitman. "I'm pleased that so many fewer youngsters are smoking cigarettes and that substance use in general is going down. However, the numbers are still too high. We need to work even harder to convince young people to make healthy choices."
Health and Senior Services Commissioner Christine Grant credited a number of efforts as contributing to the decline. Over the last three years, the department has budgeted nearly $21 million for prevention programs that target the children at greatest risk for substance use in each county. Working with local health officials, the state has also been vigorously enforcing the law banning cigarette sales to minors.
Since 1997, the department has been running an aggressive anti-smoking media campaign, "Smoking. Don't Get Sucked In," aimed at the middle school age group. And a peer leadership program, now in its third year, trains students to teach other students about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.
On December 1, more than 500 peer educators from 38 schools will join in the Day of Learning about Substance Abuse Prevention, part of the year-round Middle School Peer Leadership Initiative.
The 1999 middle school survey was conducted by Developmental Research and Programs, Inc., of Seattle, Washington, last May and June. Students were asked about their substance use patterns, family environment, delinquent behavior, school performance and peer relationships. More than 8,600 student responses were analyzed, representing 14 counties. The New Jersey survey was adapted from the Communities that Care Youth Survey that has been used in six other states.
Mirroring a trend found in the 1995 survey, the 1999 survey showed that substance use increases between the seventh and eighth grades. This was true for all substances but inhalants, the use of which remained the same or declined between the two grades.
"Middle school students are making critical decisions about substance use that can affect their lives and health for years to come," said Grant. "That's why our programs focus on reaching kids early before lifelong behavior patterns are set."
In addition to tobacco and alcohol use, the survey asked students about their current use of inhalants, marijuana and other illicit drugs. It also asked about lifetime experimentation with substances. Some of the findings are:
In addition to tracking substance use trends, the survey also measures the prevalence of risk factors that contribute to substance use and the factors that protect young people from such use. Risk factors include having parents who tolerate a child's substance use, doing poorly in school, and having contact with peers who use substances. Protective factors include community involvement, strong family attachment and academic success.
The department has dedicated $1.1 million over the next three years for the "Strengthening the Families Initiative," a program that provides prevention services to substance abusing parents.
Copies of the middle school survey may be obtained by calling the Division of Addiction Services at (609) 292-8930. The survey may also be viewed on the department's web site, www.state.nj.us/health.