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Study: Teens drinking less, texting more

  • a driver uses an iPhone while driving in Los Angeles. Among teen drivers, 41 percent had texted or emailed behind the wheel in the previous month according to A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was released on Thursday, June 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

NEW YORK — American teens are smoking less, drinking less and fighting less. But they're texting behind the wheel and spending a lot of time on video games and computers, according to the government's latest study of worrisome behavior.

Generally speaking, the news is good. Most forms of drug use, weapons use and risky sex have been going down since the government started doing the survey every two years in 1991. Teens are wearing bicycle helmets and seat belts more, too.

"Overall, young people have more healthy behaviors than they did 20 years ago," said Dr. Stephanie Zaza, who oversees the study at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The results come from a study of 13,000 U.S. high school students last spring. Participation was voluntary and required parental permission, but responses were anonymous.

Highlights of the study, released Thursday:

SMOKING

Fewer than 16 percent of the teens smoked a cigarette in the previous month — the lowest level since the government started doing the survey, when the rate was more than 27 percent. Another CDC study had already put the teen smoking rate below 16 percent, but experts tend to treat this survey's result as the official number. It's "terrific news for America's health," said Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Even so, there are still about 2.7 million teens smoking, he said.

The survey did not ask about electronic cigarettes, which have exploded in popularity in the past few years.

Meanwhile, more than 23 percent of teens said they used marijuana in the previous month — up from 15 percent in 1991. CDC officials said they could not tell whether marijuana or e-cigarettes have replaced traditional cigarettes among teens.

TEXTING

Among teen drivers, 41 percent had texted or emailed behind the wheel in the previous month. That figure can't be compared to the 2011 survey, though, because the CDC changed the question this time. The latest survey gives texting-while-driving figures for 37 states — ranging from 32 percent in Massachusetts to 61 percent in South Dakota.

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