DETROIT - Youngsters are apparently getting the message that cigarettes are increasingly out of fashion and the club drug Ecstasy isn't danger-free.
Smoking by young people declined significantly last year, while recent, large increases in teen Ecstasy use appeared to be slowing, according to an annual University of Michigan report released late last month.
The "Monitoring the Future" survey of 44,000 students nationwide found that a strong increase in teen smoking during the 1990s is reversing. In 1996, 21 percent of eighth-graders said they smoked - meaning they had one or more cigarettes in the previous 30 days. Last year, that number was 12.2 percent. Similar declines were reported for 10th-graders, from 30.4 percent down to 21.3 percent, and for 12th-graders, from 34 percent to 29.5 percent.
Use of Ecstasy, a hallucinogenic stimulant that gained popularity in the 1990s rave dance party scene, continued to rise but at a slower pace than previous years, "which may presage a turnaround" this year, said Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the study done by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
Johnston said many more students view Ecstasy use as dangerous. Drug-prevention advocates have battled the perception that Ecstasy is harmless.
Side effects of Ecstasy include confusion, memory loss, depression, anxiety and paranoia, Johnson said. It can cause dehydration and, in severe cases, heart or kidney failure, he said.
The study said 5.2 percent of eighth-graders have tried Ecstasy. The number rose to 8 percent among 10th-graders and to nearly 12 percent among 12th-graders.
Johnston attributed the drop in smoking to price increases - 70 percent in five years in some states. But he also said smoking is losing its cachet with young people, in large part because of strong anti-smoking campaigns and a reduction in advertising.
Joel Stapleton, 17, of Farmington Hills, Mich., said fewer classmates at Clarenceville High School, where he's a senior, are drinking alcohol or doing drugs.
"People are getting bored with it, it seems," he said, adding that some still go to drinking parties.
He was shopping in Royal Oak, Mich., with Katie Galazka, 18, a Clarenceville graduate who will soon begin attending Wayne State University.
She doesn't smoke cigarettes, but Stapleton said he has in the past. Both said most of their friends don't, either.
They said the school wasn't effective at teaching kids to stay away from harder drugs. Galazka said the school sent a stronger message against drinking and driving, holding assemblies showing in gruesome detail what happens in alcohol-related crashes.
"They put a huge emphasis on that," said Galazka, who added that she won't drink and drive. "They'd say, 'We can't stop you from drinking - but don't drive.'"
Susan Hiltz, executive director of the Prevention Coalition of Southeast Michigan, said the survey results are a welcome sign that new efforts to teach kids to make good decisions for themselves are effective.
Hiltz said adolescent years are crucial in shaping habits that can last a lifetime, and educators, police, parents and others should be frank with young people.
"A lot of times we underestimate the power of young people to make the right decisions about their lives," she said. "They're smart enough to make good decisions if you give them the right information: What does Ecstasy do? What do cigarettes do to your body?"
The survey is based on anonymous self-reports from students in 435 randomly selected schools. It is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.