SALT LAKE CITY — Middle and high school students in Utah public schools are trying e-cigarettes as often as they do alcohol, according to a state survey.

The Student Health and Risk Prevention survey conducted last year determined that about 23 percent of respondents who are in eighth grade or above have tried e-cigarettes at least once, while about 22 percent of that same group have tried alcohol, the Deseret News reported this week.

Among just high school seniors, about 32 percent reported smoking an e-cigarette and about 31 percent reported trying alcohol.

The survey also found that about 12 percent of the students had used marijuana and about 6 percent said they had abused a prescription drug. Less than 1 percent reported they had used other illegal drugs.

The state surveyed more than 50,000 students from February to April last year. The state Department of Health, the state Department of Human Services and the Utah State Board of Education conduct the survey every other year on sixth- and eighth-grade students and high school sophomores and seniors.

About 9 percent of the survey respondents said they had used an e-cigarette within the past 30 days and about 7 percent said they used alcohol during that same time frame.

The substances pose the risk of teens forming a lifetime pattern of addictive behavior because their brains are still developing, said Brittany Karzen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.

“Regular use is a real concern because we know the developing brain is most susceptible,” Karzen said.

The high use of e-cigarettes is particularly concerning because the effects of vaping and its possible addictiveness are largely unknown, Karzen said.

Conventional smoking remains low in the state as nearly 12 percent of students reported smoking a cigarette.

Information from: Deseret News,