The Massachusetts Department of Public Health recently published the results from the Bay State’s 2021 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey. The biennial survey “contains health status questions in addition to questions about risk behaviors and protective factors.” There is great news for policymakers as youth vaping rates have significantly declined while youth use of traditional tobacco products such as cigarettes is at record lows.
In 2021, among Massachusetts middle school students, 4.4% reported having ever tried cigarette smoking and 10.1% had ever tried an e-cigarette product. Between 2019 and 2021, ever-use of combustible cigarettes decreased by 15.4% and ever-use of vapor products declined by 31.3%.
In 2021, among Massachusetts high school students, 11.8% reported having ever tried a combustible cigarette and 30.9% had ever tried an e-cigarette. Between 2019 and 2021, ever use of cigarettes declined by 21.9% while current use of e-cigarettes declined by 39.5%. Even better, in 2021, only 17.6% of Massachusetts high school students reported currently using vapor products, defined as having used the product on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior. This was a whopping 45% decline from 2019 when 32% of Massachusetts high schoolers reported currently vaping.
These decreases are welcome but not as pronounced as the declines in other states which do not ban the sales of flavored tobacco and vapor products, including neighboring New Hampshire, which saw a 52% reduction in current vaping rates among high school students between 2019 and 2021, significantly higher than the 39.5% decline in Massachusetts during the same period.
The reductions in youth rates in Massachusetts are also smaller than the declines seen nationally during the same time period. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, data aggregated nationally for the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among American high school students, in 2021, 18% reported currently using e-cigarettes, which was a 45% decline from 2019 when 32.7% of U.S. high schoolers were current e-cigarette users.
Not only has Massachusetts’ flavored tobacco and vapor product sales ban failed to significantly reduce vaping rates among youth in the Bay State, it has not led to significant decreases in adult smoking rates, either.
Again, according to data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Systems survey, in 2021, 10.6% of adults in Massachusetts were currently smoking, which was a 12.4% decrease from 2019 (the year prior to the flavor ban) when 12.1% of adults were then currently smoking. In New Hampshire, smoking rates among adults decreased by 22.6% during the same period, from 15.9% of adults that were currently smoking in 2019 to 12.3% in 2021.
Even more intriguing, while in neighboring New Hampshire smoking rates among adults in the state were significantly declining, revenue from state excise cigarette taxes was increasing.
In 2021, the Granite State collected $228.3 million in state cigarette excise tax revenue. This was a 20.5% increase from 2019’s $189.4 million. Conversely, in Massachusetts, cigarette tax revenue decreased by 28% from $515.2 million in 2019 to $370.8 million in 2021.
It is overwhelmingly apparent that flavor bans fail to reduce vaping and/or tobacco rates among youths and adults. Policymakers in the Bay State ought to revisit the ban and its effects, while other states should consider this failure of an experiment, prior to instituting prohibitionist policies.
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.