The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published the 2021 results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) for Arizona high school students. The biennial national survey, done in coordination with state health and education departments, surveys students on various attitudes and behaviors from dietary habits to mental health and substance use.

There is great news for policymakers in the Grand Canyon State as the use of traditional tobacco products is at record lows while youth vaping has steadily declined in recent years.

According to the YRBS, in 2021, only 3.4% of Arizona high schoolers reported currently using combustible cigarettes. Current use is defined as having used the product on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior to the survey. This is a 35.9% decline from 2019 when 5.3% of students were currently smoking and a whopping 85.4% decrease from 2003 when nearly one-fourth (23.3%) reported current cigarette use.

Youth use of other traditional tobacco products is also down. In 2021, only 1.6% of Arizona high schoolers were currently using cigars, and 1.7% reported current smokeless tobacco use. Between 2019 and 2021, current cigar use declined by 67.3% and current smokeless tobacco use by 32%.

Youth vaping seems to have peaked in 2015 in Arizona when over half (51.6%) of students reported having ever tried an e-cigarette and more than one-fourth (27.5%) were currently vaping. In 2021, 40% of students reported having ever-trying an e-cigarette and 17.2% reported currently vaping. Between 2015 and 2021, ever-use of e-cigarettes declined by 22.5% while current use declined by 37.5%.

Youth e-cigarette use has received an inordinate amount of media coverage in recent years as policymakers and so-called public health groups continue to decry a youth vaping epidemic. In Arizona, local governments have attempted to impose bans on the sales of flavored tobacco and vapor products, despite declines in use among Arizona youth.

Unfortunately, such prohibitionist efforts fail to address the true reason why youth are using e-cigarettes. According to national survey data, in 2021, among U.S. middle and high school students who were currently using e-cigarettes, nearly half (43.4%) cited using them because they were feeling anxious, stressed, and/or depressed. Only a little more than one-tenth (13.2%) cited using e-cigarettes in the past month because they were available in flavors.

Lawmakers should take note of a growing mental health crisis among Arizona youth. According to the CDC, in 2021, nearly one-fourth (23.5%) of high school students reported having “seriously considered attempting suicide” in the 12 months prior to the survey while nearly one-fourth (19.7%) reported they had made a suicide plan in the last year.

Again, while addressing youth use of any age-restricted product is laudable, excessive taxes and prohibitions fail to address why youth use e-cigarettes nor do they consider the rapid declines in traditional tobacco products. Further, policymakers should better utilize their time by addressing real problems facing teens. In Arizona, in 2021, more high schoolers (23.5%) reported having considered suicide than having vaped in the past month (17.2%). This is a troubling statistic that is unlikely to be addressed by banning flavored tobacco and vapor products.

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.