The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published the results of the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) for Kansas high school students. The biennial survey examines various student behaviors from diets and physical activity to mental health and substance use. There’s great news for policymakers in the Sunflower State as youth vaping has declined significantly since peaking in 2019, while youth use of traditional tobacco products including cigars, cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco, is at all-time lows.

According to the 2021 YRBS, among Kansas high school students, vaping peaked in the state when nearly one-half (48.6%) reported having ever tried an e-cigarette and more than one-fifth (22%) reported currently using e-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, ever-use of e-cigarettes decreased by 29% to 34.2% of high schoolers, and current use decreased by 34.5% to only 14.4% of Kansas high school students reporting past-month e-cigarette use.

Despite alarmist fears that youth vaping would lead to an increase in youth use of traditional tobacco products, in Kansas, youth use of cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco products is at some of its lowest levels recorded.

In 2021, less than one-fifth (17.2%) reported having ever tried a combustible cigarette. This is a 30.6% decline from 2019 but a whopping 66.3% decrease from 2005 when over half (51%) of students reported trying combustible cigarettes. Even better, only 4.6% of Kansas high schoolers reported current cigarette use, which was a 20.7% decline from 2019’s levels and a 78.1% decrease from 2005 when more than one-fifth (21%) reported current use.

Other tobacco product use is also at record lows. In 2021, only 3.2% of Kansas high school students reported current use of cigars and 3.6% were currently using smokeless tobacco products. Between 2019 and 2021, current cigar use decreased by 41.8% and smokeless tobacco use by 34.5%.

In recent years, many policymakers have sought to address youth use of both tobacco and vapor by introducing legislation that would restrict the sale of flavored products. While laudable, youth are not overwhelmingly citing flavors as a reason for e-cigarette use. According to the CDC’s National Tobacco Survey, in 2021, among U.S. middle and high school students who were currently using e-cigarettes, only 13.2% cited using them because they were available in flavors. Conversely, nearly half (43.4%) cited using e-cigarettes because they were feeling anxious, depressed, and/or stressed.

Policymakers in the Sunflower State should pay attention to this as youth mental health issues are increasing. In 2021, more than nearly two-fifths (37.7%) of Kansas high schoolers reported persistent feelings of sadness and/or hopelessness, which was a 16% increase from 2019 and the highest level recorded. Alarmingly, 16.1% of high schoolers reported having made a suicide attempt in the year prior to the survey which was a shocking 78.9% increase from 2019 when 9% of students reported suicide attempts.

Policymakers and public health officials should welcome the declines in tobacco and vapor product use among Kansas high school students, which have come even without a statewide ban on flavored tobacco products. Should policymakers truly want to address issues facing youth in the Sunflower State, they ought to turn their attention towards a growing mental health crisis among the state’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.