MDH survey: 1 in 5 high school students vaping, overall tobacco use down

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Results from the latest Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey show vaping remains a serious challenge among the state’s youth.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), one in five high school students uses e-cigarettes and 70% of high school and middle school users report signs of nicotine dependence. The 2020 survey was the first to include a four-item nicotine dependence scale for e-cigarettes.

The survey has been conducted by MDH since 2000 to determine commercial tobacco use of young people and help design and evaluate prevention efforts.

MDH said the survey results indicate public health efforts have slowed the rapid growth of e-cigarette use in recent years, but usage still held steady in 2020 when compared to 2017.

However, MDH said overall tobacco use has dropped to 20.5% in high school students and 4.1% in middle school students having used a tobacco product in the past 30 days, down from 26.4% and 5.2%, respectively, in 2017.

The data also shows 78.4% of Minnesota students saying the first tobacco product they ever tried was flavored. Among those who vape, 65.1% of high school students and 71.7% of middle school students reported having vaped marijuana, an increase from 2017, MDH said.

Doctors report teens turning to e-cigarettes, vaping to cope with stress, anxiety during pandemic

"This research suggests our public health efforts are working but also that there is a need for continued work," MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. "In particular, the data on youth vaping alarms us, as we see how this industry continues to use flavors, advertising, internet sales and other tactics to keep addicting youth to harmful nicotine."

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study estimated that 3.6 million youth in the U.S. use e-cigarettes.

MDH said the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of reducing commercial tobacco addiction, as current and former smokers are at a higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19.

The department said nicotine also harms adolescent brains, which are still developing until about age 25.

The good news from the data is the use of cigarettes and cigars dropped to the lowest rates ever recorded by the survey, MDH said, with just over 3% of high school students reporting smoking a cigarette in the past 30 days, a steep decline from 2017.

Minnesota has a new program for youth looking for help with nicotine addiction — My Life, My QuitTM. MDH said the program is completely free and confidential and can either be used online or by texting "Start" to 36072.