Concerns about the health impacting of vaping grew in Minnesota on Wednesday when a statewide survey revealed a "sharp" rise in e-cigarette use by teenagers.
The Minnesota Department of Health released the results of its 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, which revealed one in four 11th graders reported using an e-cigarette in the past month.
That's a significant increase of 54 percent compared to the 2016 survey, when just 17 percent reported vaping.
What's more, there was an even bigger rise in vaping use by 8th graders, with 11 percent admitting to e-cig use in the past month, compared to 5.7 percent in 2016.
The report comes at a time when the federal government is taking steps to ban flavored e-cigarettes, and after multiple deaths and hundreds of illnesses have been reported across the country relating to lung damage caused by vaping.
While the exact cause of the illnesses hasn't been determined, the Centers for Disease Control found that e-cigarettes containing THC, a chemical found in marijuana, were being used in 77 percent of confirmed cases.
In response to the survey results, Governor Tim Walz has called for an "aggressive, multi-faceted campaign focused on youth education, outreach and tightening limits for accessing vaping products."
"Vaping is a public health crisis for young Minnesotans, and it is critical that we act now to bring the rate down," said Walz. "As a teacher and as a father, I know the first step is making sure our young people understand the risks.
"That’s why I’ve directed our health and education commissioners to work together to get the word out to students, parents and school officials this month while also putting forward bold legislative policies to tackle this crisis head on."
The education outreach is required, the Walz administration says, after the survey found that 76 percent of 11th graders said that e-cigs posed either no, slight or a moderate risk to their health.
As well as reaching out to schools, parents and healthcare providers across the state, Walz has directed his administration to propose a set of "bold 2020 policy options" to combat youth vaping.
This could include raising the statewide legal age for tobacco to 21, banning the sale of tobacco products, e-cigs and vaping products, banning the sale of flavored nicotine or tobacco products, and providing authority for the Department of Health to call a public health emergency in "critical situations."