There is great news for policymakers in the Treasure State, youth use of tobacco and vapor products continues to decline, with youth smoking rates at their lowest levels recorded.

According to data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), conducted in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2021, among high school students, 27.8% reported ever using combustible cigarettes, and 7% reported currently smoking, defined as having smoked on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior to the survey.

Montana’s YRBS first examined tobacco rates among the state’s youth in 1993, when 69.7% of high school students reported ever-use of cigarettes and nearly one-third (30.7%) were currently using. Between 1993 and 2021, ever-use of cigarettes declined by 60.1% and current use declined by 77.2%.

E-cigarette use among Montana high schoolers has also declined. In 2021, among all high school students, 48.3% had ever tried an e-cigarette and 25.5% were current e-cigarette users or had reported using an e-cigarette on at least one occasion in the past 30 days. Youth e-cigarette use peaked in 2019, when 58.3% had ever tried e-cigarettes and 30.2% were current users. Between 2019 and 2021, ever-use and current use of vapor products by Montana high school students decreased by 17.2% and 15.6% respectively.

Interestingly, in Montana, higher rates of youth e-cigarette use correlate with lower rates of combustible cigarettes. For example, between 2017 and 2019, current use of e-cigarettes increased by 34.2% while current use of combustible cigarettes declined by 37.4%. Between 2019 and 2021, current use of e-cigarettes decreased by 15.6% while current use of combustible cigarettes declined by only 9.1%.

These declines should be welcome for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, which spent most of 2020 trying to implement a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, which they eventually withdrew from. The potential ban came after a 2019 emergency flavor ban implemented by then-Governor Steve Bullock in reaction to a spate of lung injuries largely attributable to illicit THC-containing vapor products.

In a press release announcing the 2019 ban, the then-President of the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics claimed that vapor products were “creating nicotine addiction among a whole generation of children.”

Thankfully, they were wrong, and in the years after attempting to block adult access to less harmful alternatives to cigarettes, both tobacco and vapor product use continues to decline among Montana youth. 

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.