Kansas youth trends show decrease in cigarette smoking but increase in vaping

The percentage of high school students who smoke cigarettes has dropped but the percentage who have used electronic vapor products, such as e-cigarettes, has increased dramatically, according to trend data in the 2019 Kansas Youth Risk Behavior Survey. 

The results indicate that decades of warnings about the health dangers of cigarette smoking seem to have worked but that progress may be undermined by the rise in recent years of vaping. 

In recent months, several deaths across the country, including Kansas, have been blamed, in part, on vaping and health officials are seeing a wave of young people becoming newly addicted to nicotine, not through smoking cigarettes but through the use of e-cigs, vape pens or other nicotine delivery systems. 

According to the survey, since 2005, the percentage of high school students who have experimented with trying to smoke cigarettes has been cut in half from 51 percent to 24.8 percent, while the percentage of students who smoke cigarettes daily has decreased from 6.4 percent to 1.3 percent. 

But just between 2017 and 2019, the percentage of high school students who have used an electronic vapor product has increased from 34.8 percent to 48.6 percent while daily users have increased nearly four-fold from 1.4 percent to 5.2 percent. The 2017 survey was the first one looking at vaping. 

The survey, which looks at various behavior issues, also showed that bullying continues to increase. Those being teased because of their weight, size or physical appearance increased from 26.4 percent in 2017 to 29 percent in 2019. Students who were the victims of teasing or name calling because someone thought they were gay, lesbian or bisexual increased from 10.3 percent to 13.3 percent. 

These results on tobacco, vaping and teasing were similar whether the student was male or female. 

The Kansas Youth Risk Behavior Survey is based on a randomized sample of 9th-12th grade public school students. The 2019 survey was conducted during the last spring semester. The Centers for Disease Control oversees the survey and selects a random sample of schools from each state to participate. In Kansas, the administration of the survey is overseen by KSDE staff. Kansas education and health officials have responded to the vaping increases with numerous proposals and an anti-bullying task force is set to make its recommendations in the next couple of weeks to the State Board of Education. 

A state vaping task force has recommended the State Board adopt a policy next month that prohibits the use, possession and promotion of any tobacco product, including e-cigs, by any student or staff at school, school district property or at any school-related activity. The prohibition on product use would be extended to any parent, volunteer, contractor or visitor to a school property or school-related event. 

Officials also are considering possible legislation when the 2020 session starts Jan. 13 that would raise the minimum legal age to purchase any tobacco product from 18 to 21. Also in the works are bills to prohibit vaping in workplaces and public areas, banning certain e-liquid flavors and raising taxes on tobacco products. 

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