The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published the results of the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The biennial survey is administered among high school students and assesses various student behaviors from diet and physical activity habits to mental health and substance use.

There is great news for policymakers in the Garden State as youth cigarette use is at all-time lows, while youth vaping has declined since 2019.

In 2021, among New Jersey high school students, 3.7% reported currently using combustible cigarettes. Current use is defined as having used the product on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior. This is a 2.6% decline from 2019’s levels and a massive 87.4% decrease from 2001 when nearly one-third (29.4%) of New Jersey high schoolers reported currently smoking cigarettes.

There is even better news regarding youth use of e-cigarettes. In 2021, 36.3% of New Jersey high school students reported ever-trying a vapor product which was an 18.8% decline from 2019 when 44.7% of students had tried e-cigarettes. Current use is also down, with 21.6% of high schoolers reporting past-month e-cigarette use in 2021, which was a 21.7% decline from 2019.

These declines should be welcome as New Jersey banned the sale of flavored vapor products in 2020. Yet, bans on flavored vapor products do not address the reasons why youth use 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%) reported using them because they were feeling anxious, depressed, and/or stressed. In fact, only 13.2% of U.S. youth who were currently using vapor products in 2021 cited using them because they were available in flavors.

Policymakers in the Garden State ought to address the ongoing mental health crisis among high school students in the state. In 2021, 41.5% of New Jersey high schoolers reported persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness. This was a 15.9% increase from 2019.

Even more alarmingly, suicidal thoughts and actions have significantly increased in recent years. In 2021, nearly one-fifth (19.6%) of students reported having “seriously considered” suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey, 13.1% had made a suicide plan, and 9.5% had attempted suicide—which was an alarming 61% increase from 2019.

New Jersey policymakers must address the growing mental health crisis among the state’s youth. Despite the rhetoric, the introduction of e-cigarettes did not lead to an increase in combustible cigarette use among youth. Lawmakers ought to be concerned that New Jersey youth are reporting increases in feelings of depression and/or suicidal thoughts, which have increased, while youth use of e-cigarettes declined.

Lindsey Stroud is a Visiting Fellow at the Independent Womens Forum, Director of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance’s Consumer Center, and a board member with the American Vapor Manufacturers Association.