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Latest Colorado Children's Health survey shows drop in tobacco use among youth

Data from the Healthy Kids Colorado survey shows promising trends in youth tobacco use, with smoking and vaping down since 2019, but some concerns remain.

COLORADO, USA — The latest data from the Healthy Kids Colorado survey reveals that smoking and vaping among Colorado youth has decreased since 2019, but even with the decline, some concerns remain.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released the results from the survey — the state’s only comprehensive survey on health and well-being of young people, including high school and middle school students — in June.

According to the press release sent out Tuesday, the results showed that for the first time since 2015, current e-cigarette use among high school students dropped significantly to 16%, down from 26% in 2019. Cigarette use also dropped to 3% from 6% and the current use of any tobacco product fell from 29% to 17%. 

The data indicates that students are becoming more understanding of the dangers of smoking and vaping. There has been an increase in the percentages of students who believe that parents and adults in their neighborhood think that smoking and vaping is wrong for young people.

“The latest data is encouraging,” said Natalya Versheure, Tobacco Program Manager at CDPHE on the release, “but there’s still more work to do. We recommend that parents, schools, and communities continue to encourage youth to make healthy choices and reinforce tobacco-free habits.”

According to the release, the percentage of students who say they vape because tobacco vapor products are cheaper than other tobacco products decreased since 2019 as did the percentage of students who believe it would be easy to get cigarettes or vapor products if they wanted them. 

A number of policy changes in the past two years may have had an influence on these numbers, including Proposition EE, which created a tax on vapor tobacco products and e-cigarettes starting Jan. 1, 2021 and the Tobacco 21 law which increased the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. 

More than 36 local ordinances in Colorado communities now also require retailers who sell tobacco products to obtain a license.

“Our goal is to ensure that every young person in Colorado can live their healthiest life,” said CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan on the release. “We are encouraged that youth tobacco use is on the decline. We will continue our prevention programming to assure that young people who use tobacco have access to the resources and support that can help them quit, and to prevent youth who do not use tobacco from starting.”

While there are many positive trends in the latest survey data, there remain areas of concern.

The percentage of students who use vape products because they are flavored increased to 23%, while the percentage of current high school cigarette users who smoke menthol cigarettes did not change. 

The data also suggest that youth are experimenting with vapor products at a very young age. The percentage of high schoolers who tried vape products before the age of 13 significantly increased, from 13% in 2019 to 22% in 2021. Use among middle school students remained steady.

CDPHE runs a number of programs aimed at helping Colorado youth quit tobacco, and youth ages 12-18 can access free and confidential support to quit smoking or vaping by texting “Start My Quit” to 36072 or visiting www.mylifemyquit.org for more information.

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