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Steep decline seen in Minnesota youth smoking, but first e-cigarette use noted

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Good news was tempered with an emerging concern in the Minnesota Dept. of Health Department's 2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey, which was released on Monday.

The positive news it's the steepest decline in cigarette smoking ever recorded by the annual Minnesota youth survey. The study also showed that the percentage of high school students who smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days had dropped from 18.1 percent reported in 2011 to 10.6 percent in 2014.

Minnesota also saw declines between 2011 and 2014 in the use of chewing tobacco and cigars, according to the survey.

But apparently the 'E' in e-cigarette stands for 'experimentation.' The survey found that 12.9 percent of high school students had used or tried an electronic cigarette in the past 30 days. It also noted that 28 percent of high school students reported ever having tried an e-cigarette. That means that an estimated 85,900 Minnesota public school students in grades 6-12 have tried e-cigarettes. Nearly one-fourth of high school students who have tried an e-cigarette have never tried another tobacco product.

"Tobacco companies are using old and well-tested marketing techniques to introduce children to a new product that delivers nicotine and potentially leads to the burden of addiction,"said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger.

The Star Tribune story on the smoking study results included comments from a junior from South High School in Minneapolis. Kendra Roedl indicated that e-cigarettes have a certain appeal to teenagers. The lack of pungent smoke when vaping allows students to try e-cigarettes in a school bathroom, or to even pass them around the high school football bleachers undetected, she said.

“The vapor, it’s not as easy to smell,” Roedl said. “Your mom won’t smell it when you get home.”

Public schools and classrooms across the state were selected at random and invited to participate in the annual survey, with 4,243 students in grades 6 through 12 participating.

The Health Dept. indicates that the decline in cigarette smoking follows extensive statewide efforts to curb cigarette smoking including a 2013 tobacco tax, bans on indoor smoking, and tighter restrictions on youth access to tobacco products.

"These new findings indicate that our statewide efforts to reduce and prevent conventional tobacco use among Minnesota children are working," said Ehlinger.

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