A survey of students at Barrington High School shows that use of tobacco and non-medical prescriptions drugs is about half what it was five years ago.
The survey, which was conducted by the BAY Team, reported that cigarette smoking dropped from 15 percent in 2009 to 7 percent in 2013. Also, non-medical prescription drug use reportedly decreased from 13 percent in 2009 to 6 percent this year.
“Thanks to support from the high school the BAY Team has had considerable success in decreasing student cigarette use to unprecedented low levels,” said BAY Team Program Manager Dr. Kristen Westmoreland.
“Perception of the great harm tobacco use causes continues to be high amongst our students and represents a level of concern that should be applied to other substances such as alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs as well.”
The recent survey results showed that 81 percent of students at the high school believe there is “great harm” from smoking cigarettes. That runs in stark contrast to students’ thoughts about marijuana use — just 29 percent of students surveyed believe there is great harm from weekly marijuana use.
Kathy Sullivan, the prevention director for the BAY Team, said in a recent interview that law changes regarding marijuana use may be affecting students’ perceptions of the drug. She referenced the state’s legislative shift to making possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense and not a criminal charge, as well as the use of medical marijuana among people and the establishment of marijuana dispensaries in Rhode Island.
She said the BAY Team recently formed a committee to study marijuana use among local teens. She added that smoking marijuana can be dangerous, especially for young people.
“A person’s brain is not fully developed until they’re 25,” she said.
Good at what they do
The BAY Team’s message about the dangers of alcohol also faces an uphill battle, said Ms. Sullivan. She pointed to the media messages — on television, in movies and online — where the alcohol industry consistently targets a younger audience while advertising their product.
“The (alcohol) industry is powerful, and they’re very good at what they do,” she said, adding that while television ads are regulated there is less policing of messages online.
Recent survey results showed that about half (54 percent) of the students polled believe daily alcohol consumption poses great harm, while 64 percent believe there is great harm from using prescription drugs without a doctor’s order.
According to officials, the BAY Team utilizes long-term strategies to combat substance abuse — starting in the fourth grade, students are educated on non-smoking policies at the schools, and at the high school students participate in the annual Kick Butts Day. The BAY Team also promotes effective parenting tips and provides community presentations and support groups.
Despite the work, BAY Team officials are constantly facing new challenges, including the use of electronic cigarettes. Ms. Sullivan said local students have been talking about the relatively new devices, which have gained popularity.
“It’s re-glamorizing smoking,” she said.