On September 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published results from the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), which indicated that youth vaping declined by one-third from 2019 to 2020.
Published in the September 9, 2020 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, data from the NYTS found that current e-cigarette and vapor product use – defined as using such products on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior to the survey – declined from 27.5 percent of high school students and 10.5 percent middle school students to 19.6 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. Among middle school students, vaping rates declined by 55 percent.
Regarding frequent and daily use, among high school students, 7.62 percent of students reported using an e-cigarette on 20 or more days and 4.4 percent reported using e-cigarettes every day. Among middle schoolers, less than 1 percent reported using vapor products frequently and/or daily.
Youth reported using flavored e-cigarettes and different types of devices. Among all high school students, 9.4 percent reported using a cartridge-based closed system vapor product, 5 percent reported using a closed system disposable e-cigarette, and only 2 percent reported using an open-system, tank vapor product. Among all middle school students, 1.8 percent reported using a cartridge-based e-cigarette and less than 1 percent reported using tanks and/or disposables.
This data should be contrasted with results from the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which were released by the CDC last month. In 2019, 32.7 percent of high school students reported current use of electronic cigarettes and vapor products. Further, 10.7 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes frequently and 7.2 percent reported daily e-cigarette use.
The 2019 YRBS also found that youth combustible cigarette use is at an all time low. Indeed, only 6 percent of high school students reported smoking on at least one day in the 30 days prior to survey. Moreover, only 1.3 and 1.1 percent of high school students reported frequent and daily combustible cigarette use, respectively.
This new data is promising for those hoping to keep vaping products on the market and available for adult smokers. It remains to be seen whether this progress will result in slowdowns of anti-vaping efforts at the local, state, and federal level, but we know that prohibitionist organizations like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids are not backing down from their quest to ban all flavored tobacco and nicotine products.
As of September 2020, five states have passed laws banning the sale of flavored vapor products. Currently, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. Massachusetts has banned the sale of all flavored tobacco products – including menthol cigarettes. California is the latest state that has banned flavored tobacco products, with the ban taking effect January 1, 2021, although a ballot initiative drive is underway that would put the ban on hold until voters approve or disapprove in November 2022. As predicted by many, black and gray market sources have replaced much of the legal market.
Many localities have also banned the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products. On September 9, the Chicago City Council banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, after removing a ban on menthol cigarettes. A Phoenix City Councilman has recently voiced their intention to introduce a proposal to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and vapor products.
Policymakers have argued that banning flavors would reduce the appeal of vapor products to youth. Although youth do use flavored e-cigarette products, flavors are far from the number one cited reason as to why youth use such products. Indeed, data from surveys indicate that youth use vapor products due to social reasons and because a friend and/or family member uses such products. Furthermore, repeated surveys have found very high levels of flavor use by adults who have successfully switched to vaping.
It is important for policymakers to understand that while preventing youth e-cigarette use is laudable, policies should not restrict access to adult users of tobacco harm reduction products. Millions of Americans have used e-cigarettes to successfully quit smoking and rely on flavors to remain smoke-free, with youth e-cigarette use decreasing it is disingenuous to prohibit these products from adult consumers.