While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to delay publishing all state data, the Arkansas Division of Elementary & Secondary Education recently posted the results of its state’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). Just in time for state sessions, policymakers should pay attention to the significant declines in youth e-cigarette and tobacco use.

According to the 2021 YRBS, among Arkansas high school students in 2021, only 44.6% reported ever-trying e-cigarettes, 19.7% reported past-month e-cigarette use and only 6% of high school students were daily e-cigarette users.

Similar to national data, youth vaping peaked in the Natural State in 2019, when more than half (51.5%) of high school students had ever tried e-cigarettes, nearly one-fourth (24.3%) were past-month e-cigarette users, and 8.5% reported daily e-cigarette use. Between 2019 and 2021, ever-use of e-cigarettes declined by 22.9%, past-month use by 49.5%, and daily use by 60%.

There’s even better news regarding combustible cigarette use, arguably the most lethal form of tobacco. In 2021, only 25.2% of Arkansas high school students reported ever trying a combustible cigarette, 4.9% reported past-month cigarette use and less than 1% were daily cigarette users.

These are some significant declines and provide ample evidence that despite youth vaping peaking and declining in recent years, combustible cigarette use continues to fall, and in fact, has been accelerated by the introduction of novel alternatives to cigarettes.

For example, in 1995, the first year the Arkansas YRBS began collecting data, nearly three-fourths (74.4%) of high school students had ever tried a cigarette, over one-third (37.2%) were currently smoking and 13.5% were daily cigarette users. Between 1995 and 2009, ever-use of cigarettes declined by 26.2%, past-month by 45.4%, and daily by 43.7%.

E-cigarettes were first introduced to the U.S. market in 2007. Between 2009 and 2021, among high school students in Arkansas, ever-use of combustible cigarettes decreased by 54.1%, past-month use by 75.9%, and daily use by 92.1%.

Further, according to CDC data, smoking rates have not increased among young adults in the Natural State. In 2021, only 12.4% of Arkansan adults aged 18 to 24 years old were currently smoking, this is a 44.6% decline from 1995 when 22.4% of young adults were then-currently smoking.

Lawmakers should be celebrating these steep declines and be wary of attempting to block adult access to cigarette alternatives as they move forward in their legislative sessions. While addressing youth use of age-restricted products is worthwhile, bans on flavored vapor products fail to address why youth are using these products.

According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, in 2021, among middle and high school students who reported past-month e-cigarette use, 43.4% reported using them because they were feeling anxious, stressed, and/or depressed. According to the Arkansas YRBS, in 2021, 42.9% of high school students reported they had felt “sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row [and] stopped doing some usual activities.” This was a 6.7% increase from 2019’s 35.9% of students.

If policymakers truly want to eradicate all youth tobacco and vapor product use, they ought to get to the bottom of why youth are using e-cigarettes. But even better, they should be aware of and celebrate these declines in youth vaping and record lows in cigarette smoking among Arkansas high school students. 

Lindsey Stroud is a Visiting Fellow at Independent Women’s Forum, Director of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance’s Consumer Center, and a board member with the American Vapor Manufacturers Association.