A new survey says one in four Minnesota 11th graders reported using an e-cigarette in the previous 30 days, a 54% increase from the same survey in 2016, the Minnesota Department of Health reported Wednesday, prompting a call for action from Gov. Tim Walz.
And the jump among 8th graders was even more significant, the department said, with 11% reporting vaping in the preceding 30 days, nearly double the 2016 figure.
In response, 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.
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. Minnesota now has 55 confirmed or probable cases of vaping-related severe lung injuries, the department said.
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.
“Vaping is a public health crisis for young Minnesotans, and it is critical that we act now to bring the rate down,” Walz, a former high school teacher, said in a statement.
Some legislative options that his 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 Donald Trump last month proposed a federal ban on all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco.
The Minnesota survey found that the state’s teens are poorly informed about the health risks of e-cigarettes with 76% of 11th graders saying there’s either no, slight or a moderate risk. 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.
Click here for a toolkit from the Minnesota Department of Health on vaping.