Florida high-school students have largely kicked the cigarette habit. But many have found another way to get nicotine fixes.
A state report released Wednesday shows that 6.9 percent of high-school students smoke cigarettes, part of a steady decline during the past two decades. But while students have stopped lighting up old-school tobacco, health officials are alarmed at a sharp increase in teens using electronic cigarettes.
The report, released by the Department of Health, found that 15.8 percent of high-school students use electronic cigarettes, which allow people to inhale vaporized nicotine in different flavors. That was up from 10.8 percent in 2014 and 5.4 percent in 2013.
“The use of e-cigarettes, and this dramatic increase that we’re seeing among youth, threatens to normalize smoking again,” said Shannon Hughes, director of the department’s Community Health Promotion Division. “We have worked for decades to de-normalize smoking.”
The report details results of the annual Florida Youth Tobacco Survey. The 2015 survey was conducted in the spring and included 5,877 middle-school students and 6,443 high-school students in 174 public schools throughout the state, according to data released Wednesday.
Overall, the report reflects teens’ continued move away from cigarettes. For example, while 6.9 percent of high-school students said they “currently” smoke cigarettes, that figure is down from 10.1 percent in 2012, 13.1 percent in 2010, 15.7 percent in 2005 and 22.6 percent in 2000. Current tobacco use is defined as having smoked at least once in the past 30 days.
High-school students who said they smoke “frequently” — defined as using tobacco in at least 20 of the past 30 days — also declined. That total was 2.5 percent in 2015, down from 3.9 percent in 2012, 5.1 percent in 2010, 6.5 percent in 2005 and 10.5 percent in 2000, according to the data.
But while smoking tobacco has dropped, the use of relatively new electronic cigarettes has grown quickly. Along with 15.8 percent of high-school students who said they currently use electronic cigarettes, 6.4 percent of middle-school students said they use the devices.
Florida lawmakers in 2014 approved a ban on sales of electronic cigarettes to minors, similar to bans on the sales of regular cigarettes and other tobacco products. Electronic cigarettes do not carry all the health risks of smoking tobacco, but critics contend that the devices can hook teens on nicotine, ultimately leading to the use of tobacco products.
Hughes and the state’s Tobacco Free Florida program want the federal government to come up with national standards to regulate e-cigarettes. While Florida passed the 2014 law, the availability of electronic cigarettes online has made enforcement difficult.
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida