There is great news out of the Bluegrass State. Youth use of tobacco and vapor product rates is declining, but unfortunately, in the year that a vapor tax went into effect, smoking rates among 18- to 24-year-old Kentuckians has increased.
According to the Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in 2021, 12.8% of middle school students reported ever trying a combustible cigarette and 1.7% were currently smoking, defined as having used a cigarette on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior to the survey. Among middle schoolers, ever-use of combustible cigarettes decreased by 22.4% since 2019 and current use by 60.5%. Daily use has declined by a whopping 83.3% from 0.6% of middle schoolers smoking cigarettes every day in 2019 to only 0.1% in 2021.
Among high school students, in 2021, 26.4% reported ever-use of combustible cigarettes and 4.9% reported current smoking. Between 2019 and 2021, ever-use of combustible cigarettes decreased by 13.7% and current use declined by 44.9%. Daily use has declined by 50% from 2.2% in 2019 to 1.1% in 2021.
In recent years, lawmakers have turned their attention towards youth vaping, which is declining as well in Kentucky. In 2021, 24.1% of middle schoolers reported ever-use of e-cigarettes and 11.3% were currently vaping. Among middle school students, between 2019 and 2021, ever-use and current use of vapor products declined by 23.2% and 34.7%, respectively.
Among high school students, in 2021, 45.1% had ever tried an e-cigarette and 21.9% were currently vaping. Between 2019 and 2021, among high school students, ever e-cigarette use and current e-cigarette use declined by 16% and 16.1%, respectively.
In a bit of good news, current smoking among Kentucky adults is down by 8.4%, from 21.4% in 2020 to 19.6% in 2021. Unfortunately, there was an uptick in young adult smoking during the same period. In 2020, 12.3% of 18- to 24-year-olds in the Bluegrass State were current smokers. In 2021, this had increased by 11.4% to 13.7%.
Among all states (minus Florida), young adult smoking rates decreased on average by 19.7% between 2020 and 2021. Only nine states saw increases in smoking rates among 18- to 24-year-old adults, three of which currently have active flavored e-cigarette bans.
In 2021, a state excise vapor tax went into effect in Kentucky, which imposes a $1.50-per-cartridge excise tax on closed vapor product systems and a 15% excise tax on the sales price of open-system e-cigarette products. Interestingly, of the nine states with increases in young adult smoking rates, six had active state e-cigarette excise taxes during the same period.
As policymakers move forward with 2023 legislative sessions, it’s essential that they rely on updated data on youth and young adult tobacco and vapor product use. Despite alarmism, e-cigarettes are significantly safer than combustible cigarettes and policies should encourage their use among adults who are unable to quit smoking. Moreover, it is evident that prohibitions and excessive taxes inadvertently lead to increases in young adult smoking, which should be avoided.
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.