The results of Delaware’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) were recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The biennial survey assesses U.S. high school students’ attitudes and behaviors on a variety of issues from dietary and physical activity habits to mental health and substance use.

There is welcoming news in the First State as youth use of traditional tobacco products has reached record lows while youth vaping has steadily declined.

In 2021, among Delaware high school students, only 13.3% reported having ever tried a combustible cigarette while 2.7% were current combustible cigarette users. 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 smoking rates recorded. In 1999 (the first year the YRBS asked about cigarette use), nearly three-fourths (70.4%) of Delaware high schoolers had ever tried a cigarette and nearly one-third (32.2%) were then currently smoking. Ever-use of cigarettes has decreased by 81.1% since 1999 and current use by 91.6%. The introduction of novel tobacco and vapor products has also led to an decrease in smoking rates. Between 2019 and 2021, ever-use declined by 41.4% and current use by 56.5%.

Youth use of other traditional tobacco products is down as well. In 2021, only 2.1% of Delaware high school students reported current use of smokeless tobacco, and 2.1% reported currently smoking cigarettes. Between 2019 and 2021, smokeless tobacco use declined by 54.3% and cigar use by 71.2%.

In recent years, youth use of novel products—particularly e-cigarettes—has brought concern to policymakers. In Delaware, according to the YRBS, youth vaping seems to have peaked in 2015 when nearly half (40.5%) of students reported ever trying an e-cigarette and 23.5% were currently using vapor products. Between 2015 and 2021, the percentage of youth ever trying an e-cigarette declined by 17.5% to 33.4% of students and the percentage of youth currently using e-cigarettes decreased by 28.8% to 17.9% of students.

In order to address youth use of e-cigarettes, policymakers across the country and in the First State have introduced measures that would have prohibited the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products. It’s imperative that concerned parties understand that youth are not overwhelmingly citing flavors as a reason for using e-cigarettes, but rather are self-medicating.

According to national survey data, 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, stressed, and depressed. Only 13.2% cited using them because of flavors.

In Delaware, in 2021, 36.9% of high schoolers reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, which was a 33.7% increase from 2019 and the highest level on record. Further, nearly one-fifth (18.3%) reported having seriously considered attempting suicide in the year prior and 15.7% reported having made a suicide plan.

Policymakers in the First State should welcome the recent declines in youth vapor product use and record low rates of traditional tobacco use. Should concerned lawmakers and parents want to address youth use of vapor and tobacco products, they should turn their attention towards reasons why youth use such products rather than impose draconian prohibitions.

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.