There is welcome news for policymakers in the Peach State. According to the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), conducted in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the use of traditional tobacco products including cigars, cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco, is at record lows among Georgia’s high schoolers. Further, ever-use of e-cigarettes has declined, while current use increased slightly between 2019 and 2021.

In 2021, only 3.3% of Georgia high school students reported currently smoking cigarettes. Current use is defined as having used the product on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior to the survey. Between 2019 and 2021, current cigarette use decreased by 17.5%. Even better, current cigarette use among Georgia high school students decreased by a whopping 86.1% from 1991, the year the YRBS first monitored youth cigarette use, and when nearly one-fourth (23.8%) reported currently smoking cigarettes.

In 2021, 3.6% and 2.5% of Georgia high schoolers reported currently using cigar and smokeless tobacco products, respectively. Between 2019 and 2021, current cigar use declined by 33.3% while current smokeless tobacco use declined by 52.8%.

As youth use of traditional tobacco products reaches its lowest levels recorded, lawmakers have turned their attention towards e-cigarettes and vaping products.

In 2021, among Georgia high school students, 36% reported having ever tried an e-cigarette, while 18.2% cited current use. Between 2019 and 2021, ever-use of e-cigarettes declined by 14.9% from 42.3% of students. Current use has increased slightly by 7.1% from 17% of students having been current e-cigarette users in 2019.

While the slight increase is concerning, lawmakers should keep in mind why youths are using e-cigarettes. According to the CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, 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, compared to only 13.2% who cited using e-cigarettes because of flavors.

In Georgia, mental health issues are on the rise among high schoolers. In 2021, nearly half (43.5%) of Georgia high school students reported persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness, which was a 45.5% increase from 2019 when less than one-third (29.9%) reported such feelings. Further, more than one-fourth (26.5%) reported having seriously considered suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey, which was a 43.2% increase from 2021. Alarmingly, in 2021, 15.6% of high schoolers in Georgia reported having made a suicide attempt in the year prior to the survey, which was a 32.2% increase from 2019 and the highest level recorded since 1991.

Policymakers in the Peach State ought to welcome the record lows in traditional tobacco use and the declines in ever-use of e-cigarettes. Rather than impose draconian policies that would hinder adult access to both tobacco and tobacco harm reduction products, policymakers and public health officials ought to address the growing mental health crisis among Georgia’s (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.