Op-Ed: Even absent a flavor ban, youth vaping and smoking continues to decline in the Centennial State

There’s good news for kids and prohibitionist lawmakers in Colorado – youth tobacco and vapor product use declined between 2019 and 2021. This is despite a massive and expensive legislative fight at the state capitol earlier this year that saw the defeat of a wide-ranging flavor ban bill which would have banned the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products.

In 2021, according to results from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS), among high school students, only 30.4 percent reported ever using an e-cigarette. This is a 33.7 percent decrease from 2019 when nearly half (45.9 percent) reported e-cigarette use. Further, only 16.1 percent reported current e-cigarette use, which is defined as having used an e-cigarette on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior. This is a 37.8 percent decline from 2019, and a 40.4 percent decrease from 2017 when 27 percent of students reported past-month use.

This is similar to declines experienced at the national level. In 2021, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), only 11.3 percent of American high school students reported current e-cigarette use. This was a 43.2 percent decline from 2020 and a 58.9 percent decrease from 2019 levels.

Colorado lawmakers should also take notice that combustible cigarette use is at a record low. Only 3.3 percent of high school students reported smoking past-month cigarette use, down from 5.7 percent in 2019 and 7.2 percent in 2017. Further, in 2021, only one-third (33.2 percent) of current high school cigarette smokers reported smoking menthol cigarettes.

And, most importantly, as lawmakers seek to address youth use, they should look at the data that HCKS provides into reasons why youth are using e-cigarettes to begin with.

In 2021, according to HKCS, among current high school e-cigarette users, nearly half (46.7 percent) reported using them because a friend and/or family member had used them. These are similar results from 2019 when 45.5 percent cited friend/family as a reason for e-cigarette use. Conversely, in 2021, only 22.6 percent of high school students in Colorado that were current e-cigarette users reported using them because they were flavored. In 2019, only 18.4 percent reported flavors. Unfortunately, Colorado public health is already “alarmed” by this 22 percent increase, even though more than double the amount of current e-cigarette users reported family and friends, not flavors, as a reason for use. This is the same critical data that lawmakers ignored during this year’s flavor ban debate.

Flavors are not overwhelmingly cited as the main reason for e-cigarette use in national surveys. In 2021, according to the NYTS, among high school students that were either current or ever-users of e-cigarettes, only 13.2 percent reported using them because they were “available in flavors, such as menthol, mint, candy, fruit, or chocolate.”

But the NYTS goes further into reasons for youth e-cigarette use by offering mental health issues including anxiety and depression in answers to questions about why survey respondents had used e-cigarettes. The 2021 NYTS found that among high school students that were current e-cigarette users, 43.2 percent reported using them because they were “feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed,” compared to 27.6 percent reporting using them because a friend had.

Lawmakers should focus on the mental health issues that may cause youth to experiment with age-restricted products instead of banning a characteristic in tobacco and vapor products that, given all the data, will fail to address youth use of those products.

According to data from the HKCS, 39.6 percent of Colorado high school students reported feeling “so sad or hopeless and stopped doing usual activities almost every day for 2+ consecutive weeks during the past 12th months,” which was a 14.1 percent increase from 2019.

The lawmakers who introduced the flavor ban this year claimed that the state could not “wait any longer to address the escalating crisis of nicotine addiction” and that banning the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products “will protect Colorado kids from tobacco addiction.”

It’s time that those lawmakers listen to the data and see that the so-called crisis has been deescalating, without prohibitionist laws.

Salem News Channel Today

On-Air & Up next

See the Full Program Guide