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Access, low risk perception may fuel increase in youth e-cigarette use

March 12, 2015

Fewer Pierce County youth smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, but using alternatives is on the rise

TACOMA, Wash. – While Pierce County youth are smoking and drinking less, they are reaching for alternatives like e-cigarettes and marijuana more frequently. According to the state’s 2014 Healthy Youth Survey data released today, e-cigarette use is now at a rate similar to marijuana use among Pierce County 10th graders. One in five are using these substances—double the number who smoke cigarettes.

“These days, stores on every street corner are advertising and selling e-cigarettes and e-juice, and marijuana dispensaries are prevalent,” said Director of Health Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH. “The stores and manufacturers want youth to think that these products are cool and safe. They are not,” he said.

On March 5, Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health passed a resolution to ask the state legislature to use regulations and taxes to limit youth access to these dangerous products.

“We are taking a tough stance on alternative tobacco products and the harmful impact they have on the health of our youth,” said Chen. “We urge the legislature to regulate and tax these products in a fashion consistent with other nicotine products,” Chen said.

It was the second time in four years that the local public health agency has taken a leadership position on efforts to prevent youth access to tobacco products, e-cigarettes and related vapor products. The Board of Health is prepared to adopt additional local regulations to prevent youth from accessing electronic cigarettes and related vapor products in if state legislative action does not adequately protect the health of our youth, according to Chen.

Limiting access is important, as 20% of Pierce County 10th graders report using e-cigarettes in a 30-day period in 2014. Like e-cigarettes, marijuana is proving to be an attractive alternative to youth, who are using it as similar rates as six years ago. Marijuana use among Pierce County 10th graders was 19% in 2014, which is relatively unchanged since 2008, yet double the rate of cigarette use.

Additionally, fewer youth are seeing marijuana use as a risky behavior. Significantly fewer 10th grade students said there is great risk in using it regularly (once or twice a week)—32% in 2014, down from 49% in 2012—while 40% of 10th graders said there is a great risk in using alcohol (one or two drinks nearly every day).

Driving under the influence

Perception of risk also continues to influence driving and substance use. Fewer Pierce County sophomores reported riding in cars at least once in 30 days with drinking drivers (24 percent in 2008 compared to 17 percent in 2014), and drinking and driving dropped from 6 percent in 2008 to 5 percent. But currently, one in five (20 percent) high school sophomores reported riding in a car with a driver who had been using marijuana and one in six (16 percent) high school seniors reported driving a car within three hours of using marijuana.

Trends at a glance: Substance use among Pierce County 10th graders

  • Up: Any use of e-cigarettes or vaping in the past 30 days: Increase from 5% in 2012 up to 20% in 2014.
  • Down: Cigarette smoking in the past month: Decrease from 15% in 2008 down to 9% in 2014.
  • Down: Alcohol consumption in the past 30 days: 32% in 2008 and 20% in 2014.
  • About the same: Marijuana use in the past month: 21% in 2008 and 19% in 2014.

The Healthy Youth Survey is taken every two years by students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 in public schools across Washington. Questions asked students about a wide variety of health and health behaviors. Survey results provide state and local health organizations with needed information to plan, implement and evaluate publicly funded programs. Learn more about the Healthy Youth Survey at

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to safeguard and enhance the health of the communities of Pierce County. As part of its mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health. Learn more at

Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager
(253) 798-2853, (253) 405-6822 (cell/text),

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