Cigarette use drops, but students considering suicide remains high

Cigarette smoking and bullying rates are down among Idaho high school students, but vaping rates are up compared to two years ago, while the rate of students seriously considering suicide remains at the highest level in a decade.

That’s according to results of the new Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which the State Department of Education released last week.

Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the optional survey is administered to a sampling of high school students every two years.

The good news:

  • Students who reported smoking cigarettes fell to 5 percent, the lowest level in 10 years. In 2009, by comparison, 14.5 percent of Idaho high school students said they smoked.
  • Twenty-one percent of high school students reported being bullied, also the lowest level in 10 years. Two years ago, 26 percent reported being bullied.

The bad news:

  • The percent of students who reported vaping rose to 21.5 percent. That’s up from 14 percent in 2017, but down from 25 percent in 2015.
  • The percent of students who said they have seriously considered suicide remained at 23 percent, the highest level in a decade.
Sherri Ybarra

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said the survey is a useful tool to help understand changes and trends in high school students’ well-being, safety and success.

“This year, we see 10-year lows in the percentage of students reporting being bullied, having sex or smoking cigarettes,” Ybarra said in a written statement. “Other trends are troubling, with increases in reported use of e-cigarettes, suicidal thoughts and feelings of hopelessness.”

While Ybarra said the survey provides insight into trends and changes in risky behavior, some legislators wonder why the state gives the survey at all.

During a House Education Committee during the 2019 session, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls,complained the survey asked students too many questions about sex. In response, state officials said survey participation is optional and anonymous.

This year, 1,213 students from 45 different public high schools and charters completed the survey. Overall, there are 92,000 high school students in Idaho.

The survey included 97 multiple-choice questions, which students answered during the school day. Parents were allowed to opt their children out of participating in the survey.

In the full survey report, SDE officials said they attempted to collect a representative sample of students. They also noted limitations to the validity of the data, including possible underreporting of unhealthy or illegal behaviors and over-reporting of positive behaviors. The report also noted some of Idaho’s most at-risk teens, such as students who have dropped out of school, would not be reflected in the survey results.

The survey measured and tracked students’ behaviors and experiences on a variety of other topics, including seat belt usage, physical activity, sexual activity, the percentage of students who report there is a teacher or adult at school they can talk to if they have a problem.

Full survey results are available on the State Department of Education’s website.


Clark Corbin

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