There’s good news out of the Golden State, youth use of tobacco and vapor products is at record lows.
Indeed, according to data from the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS), in 2021, only 1% of 7th and 9th graders and 2% of 11th graders reported current cigarette smoking, defined as having smoked a cigarette on “one or more days” in the 30 days prior to the survey. Further, since 2015, combustible cigarette use has declined by 50% among 7th graders, by 75% among 9th graders, and by 71.4% among 11th graders. In fact, 2021 combustible cigarette use rates are some of the lowest levels recorded.
Current vapor product use has declined significantly as well. According to the CHKS, 2015 was the peak year for e-cigarette use among California youth, with 7% of 7th graders, 13% of 9th graders, and 14% of 11th graders reporting having used an electronic cigarette product in the 30 days prior to the survey.
In 2021, only 2% of 7th graders, 6% of 9th graders, and 10% of 11th graders reported current e-cigarette use. Among 7th graders, vaping has declined by 71% since 2015, among 9th graders by 53.8%, and among 11th graders by 28.6%.
The results are welcome as voters are set to decide in November whether the Golden State will ban the retail sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products, including menthol cigarettes.
Policymakers should be wary of such bans, as local flavor bans in California have had limited effects on e-cigarette use, but, alarmingly, correlate with increases in youth combustible cigarette use.
For example, a ban on flavored tobacco and vapor products went into effect in San Francisco in July 2018. According to data from CHKS, among 9th and 11th graders, between 2015-2017 and 2017-2019 surveys, ever-use of e-cigarettes decreased by 19.4%, but ever-use of combustibles decreased by only 8.3%. Further, current cigarette smoking increased by 20% and current vaping increased by 133.3%. Interestingly, between the 2017-2019 and 2019-2021 surveys, ever-use of vapor products increased by 52% while current cigarette smoking decreased by 66.7%.
The findings are similar to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which found, that among all San Francisco high school students, ever-use of cigarettes increased by 11.4% between 2017 and 2019, and current cigarette use increased by 38.9%.
California voters should be wary of flavor bans. As indicated by state youth surveys, banning flavored tobacco and vapor products is unlikely to decrease youth e-cigarette use and a statewide ban could lead to even more young persons using far more harmful combustible cigarettes.
This is part of a blog series of state analyses examining recent youth tobacco and vapor surveys.
Lindsey Stroud is a Visiting Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, Director of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance’s Consumer Center, and a board member with the American Vapor Manufacturers Association.