Cigarette use drops among teens; e-cigarettes tempting

Published 8:56 am Tuesday, November 11, 2014

By Lorna Benson

MPR (90.1) News

Cigarette smoking by high school students in Minnesota has sharply declined, according to the latest state health survey.

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But the 2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey found that more than a quarter of high school students have tried electronic cigarettes.

Public health officials say e-cigarette devices are exposing thousands of students in Minnesota to addictive nicotine, which could increase their interest in trying traditional tobacco products.

According to the survey the percent of high school students who smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days fell to 10.6 percent in 2014. That compares to 18.1 percent in 2011, the last time the survey was conducted.

“This is tremendous progress that follows several Minnesota actions to decrease youth smoking,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger said.

Ehlinger said the higher tobacco taxes have made smoking unaffordable for many teenagers. He also credited tougher restrictions on tobacco sales, which includes the requirement that all tobacco products to be sold behind the counter.

But the survey’s good news about smoking was tempered by some potentially bad news about electronic cigarettes.

For the first time, the survey asked students if they had ever used the battery-operated nicotine delivery devices, which were introduced to the U.S. market in 2007.

Ehlinger said 28 percent of high school students in this year’s survey said they have tried an e-cigarette, and 12.9 percent of students said they had used one in the past 30 days.

“E-cigarettes arrived in Minnesota in a significant way only a few years ago,” he said. “And already more than a quarter of high school students, nearly 90,000 students have already tried e-cigarettes.”

E-cigarettes appeal to some teenagers because they are hard to detect, said Kendra Roedl, a 16-year-old Minneapolis South High School junior who attended the health department’s news conference.

“The vapor, it’s not as easy to smell. Your mom won’t smell it when you get home,” said Roedl, who is a member of the Minneapolis Youth Congress, which advises public agencies on youth issues. “You can use them a lot of places without being realized. I’ve been at football games and people are passing them around.”