Youth smoking, drug use, alcohol: Knox County Health Dept. releases middle school behavior survey results


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Trends in “risk behavior” such as drug use, alcohol consumption and other vices among Knox County middle school youth from 2018 were released Wednesday by the Knox County Health Department (KCHD).

Local organizations such as KCHD, Knox County Schools and Metro Drug Coalition created a survey to show the youth-sourced data of trends concerning KCS middle school students.

Health Department officials said Wednesday that several of the findings included in the analysis “reflect improving outcomes, such as a decline in more traditional forms of tobacco use, including cigarettes and cigars, and an increase in seatbelt use.”

However, KCHD also saying several of the findings are concerning, especially regarding thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts, electronic vapor product use, misuse of prescription pain medication, and the percentage of students who consider themselves overweight.

The main takeaways: Overall percentages of youth trying things like alcohol and e-cigarettes made for the largest numbers, while marijuana and drug use percentages were smaller.

Smoking: Cigarettes & Vaping

According to the report, almost five percent (4.6%) of middle school students reported smoking their first cigarette before 11 years of age; while the current cigarette use, defined as smoking cigarettes on one or more days in the past 30 days, has declined from 6.0% in 2013 to 3.1% in 2018.

The 2018 report included questions on the use of e-cigarettes/electronic vapor products for the first time. That data revealed one out of six middle school students (18.1%) reported they used an electronic vapor product such as an e-cigarette, vape pen, hookah pen or mods during their lifetime.

Also, one out of 12 students (8.9%) reported current electronic vapor product use defined as one or more days of use during the past 30 days.

Male students (11.0%) reported current electronic vapor product use more frequently compared to female students (6.2%).


Almost one out of five middle school students (18.6%) reported they tried alcohol other than a few sips. Male students were more likely to report this behavior compared to female students.


Approximately four percent of middle school students (3.5%) reported they tried marijuana before the age of 11.

Almost one out of 12 middle school students (8.2%) reported they have used marijuana during their lifetime.

Prescription drugs

More than six percent (6.4%) of middle school students reported they had taken prescription pain medicine without a doctor’s prescription or orders.

“This important information gives us insight into some of the social challenges that face our students,” KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas said. “We are in a unique position to positively affect student well-being and this data helps us to better address these issues.”

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