May 22, 2020

More Young Adults Used Pot, But Fewer Drank, Smoked Cigarettes or Used Other Drugs, According to Latest Data

The share of young adults who used pot has eclipsed the percentage who smoked tobacco cigarettes, marking a noteworthy change in American substance-use habits.

In 2017–2018, according to recently released data, 22% of people ages 18 to 25 had used marijuana in the past month, while 21% had smoked a cigarette.

Binge drinking fell and the use of drugs other than pot and tobacco held steady, making marijuana use the outlier among young adults as habits change among college students and others who are in their early adult years. The shifts come as more states lift restrictions on marijuana use and as advertising to curb cigarette smoking continues to be a feature of young people’s lives in the wake of the 1998 tobacco settlement.

Marijuana use continues multiyear rise, varies across states

Pot use by young adults ticked upward from 2007–2008 to 2010–2011 and has held steady until the rate started to uptick again in 2014–2015. The figure climbed from 21% in 2016–2017 to 22% in 2017–2018, with more than 7.5 million people ages 18 to 25 using marijuana in the past month during the latter time frame. Meanwhile, 7% of those ages 12 to 17 had used pot in the past month in 2017–2018.

Perhaps unsurprising given the differences in laws from state to state, marijuana use rates continued to show wide variation among the states. Pot use was highest in Vermont (38%), Maine (35%) and Colorado (33%) and lowest in Utah (14%).

Cigarette use has dropped almost by half since 2002

The percentage of young adults who smoke cigarettes, 21% in 2017–2018, has been on the decline for years. Data can be found at the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Center going back to 2002–2003, and at that time, the cigarette use rate for young adults was 41%. The figure has held steady or fallen every year since. Cigarette use has likewise fallen for the 12 to 17 age group, from 13% in 2002–2003 and 9% a decade ago to 3% now.

As with pot, cigarette use among young adults varies widely across the states, from a high of 32% in West Virginia to a low of 14% in Utah. In 2002–2003, there were 48 states where at least a third of young adults used cigarettes; by 2017–2018, for the first time, there were none.