The D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education recently published the results of the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey for Washington, DC youth. There is welcome news, youth use of combustible cigarettes and vapor products has remarkably declined in recent years, yet, the newly published data comes just months after a flavor ban took effect in the nation’s capital.

Among middle school students, in 2021, 1.3% reported current use of combustible cigarettes, defined as having used the product on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior to the survey. Only 0.2% of middle schoolers in DC reported frequent and daily cigarette use. Regarding vapor product use, among middle school students in DC, 4.5% reported current use in 2021, 0.4% reported frequent use, and 0.3% reported daily e-cigarette use.

Combustible cigarette use is considerably down among middle schoolers, with current use declining by 82.9% between 2007 and 2021, frequent use by 77.7%, and daily use by 66.7%. Vaping appears to have peaked in 2019 among middle schoolers, with current vaping declining by 15.1% between 2019 and 2021, frequent vaping declining by 33.3%, and daily use of e-cigarettes declining by 25%.

Among high school students, in 2021, 3.2% reported current cigarette use, 0.4% reported frequent use and 0.3% reported daily use. Regarding vaping, in 2021, 10.1% of DC high school students reported current use, 1.2% reported frequent use, and 0.7% reported daily use.

Again, combustible cigarette and vapor product use is down among high school students. Between 2007 and 2021, current combustible cigarette use declined by 72%, frequent use declined by 88.6%, and daily use by 89.3%. Similar to middle school data, vaping peaked in 2019 among high school students in DC. Between 2019 and 2021, current vaping among high schoolers declined by 22.3%, frequent vaping declined by 29.4%, and daily e-cigarette use by 30%.

In 2021, the DC city council passed a bill that banned the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products, which went into effect in October 2022. One tobacco and vaping opponent organization applauded the DC mayor for signing the bill into law, remarking that the “action will protect kids from tobacco addiction.” But as the survey results show, tobacco use was already declining, without the unnecessary flavor bans that can restrict less harmful alternatives for adults who are unable and/or unwilling to quit smoking combustible cigarettes. 

It is apparent that flavor bans are not needed to reduce youth use of age-restricted products. Lawmakers should be wary of such proposals as they could hinder adult access to alternatives to smoking. 

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.