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Young people swap cigarettes for joints

SMOKING has become “out of fashion” for young people, with secondary school students’instead preferring alcohol and marijuana. More than half of them drink regularly and 44 percent have smoked “pot” recently. These are the results of the latest survey by the National Monitoring Centre for Drugs, which last year interviewed 10,688 students, the Pravda daily has reported.

SMOKING has become “out of fashion” for young people, with secondary school students’instead preferring alcohol and marijuana. More than half of them drink regularly and 44 percent have smoked “pot” recently. These are the results of the latest survey by the National Monitoring Centre for Drugs, which last year interviewed 10,688 students, the Pravda daily has reported.

“In total, it can be said that the growth in cigarette-smoking has stopped, and is even showing signs of a slight decrease,” Alojz Nociar of the National Monitoring Centre for Drugs said. “The 2006 survey also showed a decreasing trend in the incidence of smoking among pupils. It is still too early to draw conclusions, but it seems that the combination of legislation, taxation, and publicity about the problem can be effective in the long term.”

In 2003, 35.8 percent of boys smoked; in 2007, this number was 32.8 percent. Among girls, a slight increase, from 28.1 to 31.7 percent, was recorded.

But the number of marijuana smokers has been rising steeply. Last year, almost 44 percent of students admitted to having smoked it, compared to only 12.4 percent in 1995 and a little over one third four years ago.

“Nobody was drunk in lessons here, that would have been too obvious, but some students frequently arrived at school stoned,” admitted Jozef Štefík from Žilina, who was a student at secondary grammar school four years ago.

The survey painted a similarly grave picture when it came to alcohol. Only 3 to 6 percent of 14-18 year-olds do not drink at all. More than one half of students drink an ‘average’ amount, while one third drink in a potentially-harmful way. The survey showed signs of addiction in 4 to 6 percent of young alcohol consumers.

According to the main expert on drug addiction treatment at the Health Ministry, Ľubomír Okruhlica, the number of young alcoholics in sanatoriums has not increased, however.

“Compared with the past, we haven’t recorded any big changes among young people. They perhaps tend to combine more light drugs with alcohol, but [the number of] alcoholics in this age group has not increased,” he said. He admitted that he has met 17 year-old alcoholics, but considers it a rare phenomenon.

“At this age, alcoholism is still treatable,” Okruhlica concludes.

Another notable finding, according to Nociar, is that young people seem to be taking legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol earlier compared with past years. The average age at which children start smoking is now 10.

“This earlier experience can make experiments with illegal drugs, especially pot, easier,” he thinks.

The same poll was also conducted in other European countries last year, but the results have not yet been released. In previous polls, Slovakia has risen in the European chart of young users.

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