MN health officials: Big jump in 11th graders who say they’ve vaped

Kya Scholler holds a vaping device.
Kya Scholler holds a vaping device. She started vaping when she was 14.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Updated: 3:13 p.m.

One in 4 Minnesota 11th graders reported they recently used an e-cigarette, and Minnesota youth are poorly informed about the potential health risks of vaping.

Those are two key findings from this year’s Minnesota Student Survey, and they’re likely to heighten concerns over the increase in vaping among children.

The latest data, released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Health, represents a 54 percent increase from the 2016 student survey that found 17 percent of 11th graders reporting they vaped within the past 30 days.

In a statement, the Health Department said jump among eighth graders is even more significant — from 5.7 percent in 2016 reporting they used an e-cigarette in the past month, to 11 percent this year.

In response, Gov. Tim Walz directed his administration to launch an aggressive outreach campaign to schools as they struggle with vaping among students, and to come up with policy proposals for the 2020 Legislature to combat youth vaping.

“Vaping is a public health crisis for young Minnesotans, and it is critical that we act now to bring the rate down,” Walz said in a statement.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz
Gov. Tim Walz speaks with reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday, shortly after sending a letter to top legislative leaders asking them to convene a conference committee to negotiate the differences between competing House Democratic and Senate GOP insulin affordability plans.
Steve Karnowski | AP Photo

The Minnesota Student Survey, which is conducted every three years, polled students last school year, well before the nationwide surge in lung disease blamed on vaping.

State health officials say Minnesota is now up to 55 confirmed or probable cases of vaping-related severe lung injuries, and one death. The agency, though, did not say how many of those injuries originated from legal vaping products.

Besides the increased use of e-cigarettes, the student survey reported that 76 percent of 11th-graders surveyed said there was either no risk, a slight risk or moderate risk to using the products. According to the Health Department, teens who try e-cigarettes are nearly four times as likely to start smoking cigarettes as teens who don’t.

“We should all be very alarmed by the increasing number of eighth graders who reported vaping, because we know that the earlier a person is exposed to nicotine, the greater their risk in terms of future brain development and addiction,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “That is deeply alarming because we know that these new products are extremely dangerous.”

E-cigarette marketing efforts “have included child-friendly flavorings and misinformation related to the safety of vaping products,” according to the Health Department.

Nationally, the toll has topped 800 with at least 14 deaths. Most of those who got sick vaped THC, the compound that gives marijuana its high, though some patients reported that they vaped only nicotine.

Some legislative options that the Walz administration is already considering include raising the state’s legal age for tobacco to 21; prohibiting internet sales of tobacco products, e-cigarettes and vaping products; prohibiting the sale of flavored nicotine and tobacco products because they appeal to youth; and giving more authority to the health department to act against youth vaping.

Other states and communities have already taken steps to discourage vaping and conventional tobacco smoking among young people as concerns grow about the illness outbreak.

Los Angeles County on Tuesday banned flavored tobacco products including e-cigarettes, while California Gov. Gavin Newsom has called on lawmakers to send him legislation next year to ban vaping. A law barring people under age 21 in Maryland from buying tobacco products including electronic smoking devices took effect Tuesday. Washington state is slated to impose an emergency, four-month ban on the sale of flavored vaping products next week.

New York, Michigan and Rhode Island have announced at least temporary bans on flavored products, while Massachusetts has imposed a four-month ban on all vaping products, flavored or not. President Trump last month proposed a federal ban on all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco.

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