SEATTLE -- Washington high school students who participated in a statewide survey say they are twice as likely to smoke marijuana as cigarettes, and the state's top health official said Thursday she's worried that a new marijuana law may make prevention efforts more difficult.
High school smoking has decreased significantly across the state, with cigarette smoking down in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12, but the number of high school students who believe using marijuana is risky is also at a low point, health officials said after releasing the 2012 survey results.
More than half of 10th graders said it is easy to get marijuana and about 19 percent said they smoked marijuana within 30 days of the survey. About 27 percent of 12th graders said they smoked pot.
More than 200,000 youth took the voluntary and anonymous survey in October.
In November, Washington and Colorado voters legalized marijuana possession for adults over 21. Possession remains illegal for youth.
Washington Health Secretary Mary Selecky expressed concern that marijuana prevention efforts aren't ready to ramp up in response to the new state law.
"As the perception of harm goes down, use goes up," she said.
Some of Washington's anticipated tax revenue from sales of marijuana at state licensed stores will be devoted to youth prevention education. But Selecky said marijuana stores are expected to open before new money for prevention efforts flows to the state. She noted that the state has worked hard to keep tobacco out of the hands of minors by making it illegal for anyone under 19 to buy cigarettes, but kids are still getting their hands on tobacco.
Washington already does some youth drug prevention, but to get the results seen in smoking prevention, they will need to increase their efforts significantly, Selecky said.
"We have our work cut out for us," she said.
A University of Washington researcher who supported the new marijuana law said it's a big improvement over prohibition alone, since the government has done a lousy job of educating young people about marijuana.
"More adolescents reducing their use of tobacco is an indicator, as I see it, of the effectiveness of well-funded, science-based education," said Roger Roffman, a professor emeritus of social work and a therapist in private practice. "If that can work with tobacco, why wouldn't it work with regard to marijuana?"
He expects this public health effort, which was not included in the Colorado law, will be more effective in preventing harm, and encouraging healthy decisions than prohibition.
The healthy youth survey conducted in 2012 also found that fewer students are using alcohol, compared with 2010. About 23 percent of students in 10th grade reported drinking alcohol over the previous 30 days, compared with 28 percent in 2010. That number peaked at 45 percent in 1999. The 12th grade numbers dropped from 40 percent in 2010 to 36 percent in 2012.
The Healthy Youth Survey is taken every two years by students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12, in more than 1,000 public schools in Washington.
Contact Donna Blankinship through Twitter at https://twitter.com/dgblankinship
Healthy Youth Survey: http://is.gd/IP4blF