There is promising news out of the Ocean State. In 2021, youth use rates of tobacco and vapor products were at some of their lowest levels in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, there has been an uptick in combustible cigarette use among young adults aged 18 to 24 years old, which has also been seen in other states that have banned the sale of flavored vapor products.
According to the Rhode Island Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in 2021, among high school students, only 11.9% reported ever-use of combustible cigarettes, and a minute 3% were currently using combustible cigarettes, defined as having used a tobacco or vapor product on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior to the survey. Since 2019, ever cigarette use has declined by 32% and current use by 28.6%, among Ocean State high school students. Data on middle school tobacco and vapor product use in 2021 is not yet available.
In addition to declining combustible cigarette use, youth use of vapor products has significantly decreased. Between 2019 and 2021, ever-use of e-cigarettes decreased by 34.6% and current use declined by 40.9% from 30.1% of Rhode Island high school students reporting past-month e-cigarette use in 2019 to only 17.8% in 2021.
Further, daily use of both cigarettes and vapor products is at record lows. In 2021, only 1.1% of Rhode Island high school students reported daily cigarette smoking and only 4.6% reported vaping daily. Daily cigarette and vapor product use has declined by 31.3% and 37%, respectively, since 2019.
Some vaping opponents are likely to point towards the state’s flavored e-cigarette ban, which went into effect in March 2020, as the reason for such declines, yet youth vaping has declined significantly nationwide. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published the results from the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS). According to the NYTS, in 2022, 9.4% of high school and middle school students reported past-month use of e-cigarettes. This is a 53% decline from 2019 when 20% of American youth had used e-cigarettes in the past month.
Unfortunately, in Rhode Island, and other states with flavor bans, there has been an increase in smoking rates among young adults. According to the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, in 2021, 7.4% of 18- to 24-year-olds in Rhode Island were currently using combustible cigarettes, this is a 5.7% increase from 2020’s rate of 7%. Fortunately, overall cigarette use by all adults has declined by 8.1% from 13.5% in 2020 to 12.4% in 2021.
Lawmakers should be wary of flavored e-cigarette bans. While youth vaping has declined in Rhode Island after the ban, young adult smoking has increased. Further, in both Rhode Island and across the U.S., youth tobacco and vapor rates have declined since 2019. Rather than imposing bans to stymie youth vaping, policymakers should embrace the role of alternatives to smoking have had in reducing combustible cigarette use.
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.