Every year, thousands students from private and public middle and high schools across the nation take part in the National Youth Tobacco Survey. This survey helps policymakers and tobacco control advocates to gain a better understanding of tobacco use among teens and what areas need to be addressed. Cigarettes and electronic cigarettes are two of the biggest problem areas when it comes to youth tobacco rates- 2,500 teens pick up their first cigarette every day and e-cigarettes are currently the tobacco product of choice in this age range.
Cigarette use among high school students has fallen from 27.5% in 1991 to 8% in 2016– that’s the lowest it’s been in the 25 years these rates have hookah (or water pipes). Both have increased in popularity in past years and both lack the control efforts and legislation that cigarettes have. For example, both are legally able to be flavored, which has been studied to be a very effective hook for teens.
The shine may be wearing off for e-cigarettes- only 11.3% and 4.3% of high school and middle school students, respectively, reported regularly using them in 2016, compared to 16% and 5.3% in 2015. Are teens seeing them as an experimental fad? Are restrictions on the sale and use of e-cigarettes making the dent? Or is tobacco education reaching them and they’re learning that their health is not worth risking over these new products we don’t know much about? A clear answer remains to be seen, but whatever the answer is, hopefully it means that the trend continues to decrease.
While these drops on tobacco products are fantastic, it still means that there are still around 4 million teens using tobacco products out there. The most tried-and-true methods for decreasing tobacco rates among teens are still tobacco control legislation, like raising the tobacco buying age and tobacco taxes, and education. Tobacco control advocates and organizations will continue to fight until we achieve a tobacco-free generation.