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Smoking, drinking down among students as vaping and mental health struggles surge

Star Tribune - 10/17/2019

Fewer Minnesota students are drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and using marijuana, but rates of vaping among teens continue to surge, according to results of a new statewide survey.

The Minnesota Student Survey, which is taken every three years by students in fifth, eighth, ninth and 11th grades, also revealed that a growing number of students are facing long-term struggles with their mental and emotional health -- and more have had suicidal thoughts.

Rates of cigarette smoking plunged to their lowest-ever levels, with just 3% of 9th graders reporting smoking within the last 30 days. That's down about a percentage point from three years ago, but a striking change from 2001, when nearly 20% of 9th graders said they'd recently smoked. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of 11th-graders said they'd recently used an e-cigarette, up from 17 percent three years ago. The jump in vaping was even more pronounced among eighth-graders.

In a statement, State Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said she's concerned about that trend, and also the rising number of students contending with anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns. The number of students reporting struggles with their mental health hit a high point across grade levels in the new survey, up from 18 percent three years ago to 23%.

"Our students are talking to us and we must listen," Ricker said. "The results of the Minnesota Student Survey show a number of concerning pieces of data, including student vaping and declines in mental health. No matter what is happening in students' lives outside of school, we must make sure that they feel supported, safe, and welcomed when they're in the classroom so they can succeed academically. My fellow commissioners and I will be working with our school communities so we can better meet the needs of all of our students."

The survey was administered from January to May this year, with 81 percent of the state's school districts participating.

Erin Golden • 612-673-4790

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