The results of Michigan’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) were recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In coordination with state health and education departments, the CDC biennially surveys American high school students about various behaviors from diets and physical activity habits to substance use.

Lawmakers in the Great Lakes State should welcome the news as youth use of traditional tobacco products has reached record lows while youth vapor product use has declined since peaking in 2019.

Among Michigan high school students in 2021, 13.3% reported having ever tried a combustible cigarette, while 1.7% were currently smoking. Current use is defined as having used the product on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior to the survey.

These are some of the lowest rates recorded. In 1997 (the first year the YRBS asked about cigarette use), three-fourths (75%) of Michigan high schoolers had tried combustible cigarettes and nearly two-fifths (38.2%) were currently smoking. Between 1997 and 2021, ever-use of combustible cigarettes declined by 82.3% and current use by 95.5%.

The introduction of e-cigarettes does not seem to have led to an increase in smoking among Michigan youth. Between 2019 and 2021, ever-use of combustible cigarettes decreased by 37% and current use by 62.2%.

Youth use of other traditional tobacco products is also down. In 2021, 1.2% of Michigan high schoolers reported currently using smokeless tobacco products and 2.1% reported current cigar use. Between 2019 and 2021, current use of smokeless tobacco products decreased by 58.5% and current cigar use declined by 59.6%. Similar to cigarette use, youth use of other traditional tobacco products is at record lows.

E-cigarettes are a relatively new class of product, with Michigan’s YRBS first monitoring youth vapor product use in 2015. Similar to national data, vaping appears to have peaked in Michigan in 2019 when nearly half (49.8%) reported ever trying an e-cigarette and more than one-fifth (20.8%) reported current use. In Michigan, ever-use of vapor products decreased by 33.5% to one-third (33.1%) having ever tried an e-cigarette in 2021. Further, only 14% reported currently using e-cigarettes in 2021, a 32.7% decrease from 2019.

In recent years, Michigan lawmakers and Governor Gretchen Whitmer have launched an assault on adult access to e-cigarettes and other tobacco harm-reduction products. In 2019, Whitmer, reacting prematurely to a swath of vaping-related lung injuries caused by illicit vapor products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), moved to ban the sale of all flavored vapor products. A lawsuit would eventually strike down the ban, but in recent years, the Michigan Legislature has repeatedly introduced various proposals to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products.

Prohibitionist policies do not address why youth use e-cigarettes and are unlikely to make a significant impact on youth use. In 2021, among U.S. middle and high school students who were currently using e-cigarettes, 43.4% cited using them because they were feeling anxious, depressed, and/or stressed. Comparably, only 13.2% cited using them because of flavors.

In Michigan, the percentage of youth reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 10.7% from 36.4% of high schoolers in 2019 to 40.3% in 2021. Further, in 2021, almost one-in-ten Michigan high schoolers (9%) reported having made a suicide attempt in the 12 months prior to the survey.

It is imperative that state policymakers be aware of the record lows in youth tobacco use among Michigan youth, as well as the sharp declines in youth vaping. These declines have happened even without prohibitionist policies such as misguided flavor bans. Rather than imposing restrictions on adult access to safer alternatives to cigarettes, lawmakers should turn their attention towards addressing a growing mental health crisis among Michigan (and the nation’s) youth.

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.