The Connecticut State Department of Public Health recently published a summary of the Connecticut School Health Survey, or the Constitution State’s version of the nationally known Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), conducted in coordination with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the data is limited, and certain survey responses are conspicuously missing from the summary, there is good news as youth vaping has significantly decreased among Connecticut high school students, while traditional tobacco product use is at record lows.
In 2021, among Connecticut high school students, 24.9% reported ever trying an e-cigarette, 10.6% were currently using e-cigarettes, defined as having used the product on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior, and 3.1% reported vaping daily. Between 2019 and 2021, ever-use of vapor products decreased by 44.4%, current use decreased by 60.7% and daily use decreased by 49.2%.
Regarding traditional tobacco products, among Connecticut high schoolers, in 2021, 1.3% reported current use of combustible cigarettes, 1.3% reported currently using smokeless tobacco products, and 0.7% reported currently smoking cigars. Between 2019 and 2021, current combustible cigarette use decreased by 64.9%, current smokeless tobacco use by 50%, and current cigar use by 82.1%. Current combustible cigarette use has essentially been eradicated in the Constitution State, declining by 91.8% in 10 years from 15.9% of high schoolers to 1.3%.
Unfortunately, the health department is not releasing the full results of the biennial survey, which is problematic as lawmakers debate on banning the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products, which the state health department supports.
For example, one survey question asks students what “is the main reason you have used electronic vapor products?” Survey responses include having not used e-cigarettes, because a friend/family member had, to get a high and/or buzz from nicotine, because they were “feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed,” curiosity, because they are less harmful, because they’re available in flavors, and “other.”
Unfortunately, the published summary only gives us data for the percentage of youth who reported using them because they were curious about them—or 8.1% of Connecticut high school students.
The missing survey responses for the other reasons for using e-cigarettes are conspicuous, especially given that the health department has pushed for lawmakers to ban flavored tobacco and vapor products, yet seems to be hiding data that indicate youth aren’t using e-cigarettes because of flavors.
For example, according to the codebook for the 2019 YRBS, among Connecticut high school students, only 5.2% reported using e-cigarettes because they were available in flavors, while 18.2% cited “other,” and 12.9% had used them because a friend and/or family member had.
Similarly, the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, conducted by the CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, found that among U.S. middle and high school students who were currently using e-cigarettes, nearly half, or 43.4%, reported using them to self-medicate feelings of anxiousness, depression and/or stress, while only 13.2% were currently vaping because of flavors.
Unfortunately, the state health department is not releasing the percentage of Connecticut youth who cited anxiety, depression, and/or stress as a reason for use, while more and more of the state’s youth are reporting feeling sad and/or hopeless.
According to the 2021 YRBS, 35.6% of high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness that they had quit doing their usual activities. This is the highest rate recorded and a 16.3% increase from 2019, as well as a 30.9% increase in 10 years from 2011 when 24.4% reported such feelings.
It is deeply problematic that the state public health department seems to be hiding data from lawmakers while pushing for draconian prohibitions that fail to take into account the declines in youth tobacco and vape use. Further, policymakers should be directing their attention towards a growing mental health crisis among Connecticut (and the nation’s) youth and demanding the full survey results of the 2021 YRBS.
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.