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Minnesota sees dramatic decline in young smokers

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - If some young Minnesotans smoke like it's going out of style, maybe that's because it is.

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DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – If some young Minnesotans smoke like it's going out of style, maybe that's because it is.

In just four years, the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who smoke cigarettes has dropped from nearly 22 percent of all adult smokers to just above 15 percent.

In the world of smoking statistics, that's an earthquake.

For the first time, young Minnesotans 18 to 24 years old don't have the highest smoking rate.

The group with the highest smoking rate is now adults who are 25 to 44 years old.


The high school smoking rate in Minnesota has fallen to just 10.6 percent, down from 18 percent in 2011. That's 20,000 fewer kids smoking than just a few years ago.

That's good news for anti-smoking groups like ClearWay Minnesota, which is funded until 2023 with money carved out of the original tobacco litigation settlement.

"We are a limited-life organization," said Anne Mason, public affairs manager for ClearWay Minnesota. "We're trying to do as much as we can before that time. Minnesota is ahead of other states, but there's still a lot to do."

It includes taking aim at tobacco products that are packaged and marketed like candy.

Products like little cigars, cigarillos, chew and e-cigarettes are sold in kid-friendly flavors such as bubble gum, strawberry and grape.

The candy flavors are used to hook kids, who think that flavored tobacco products are less dangerous and addictive than non-flavored ones, Mason said.

She lauded the city of Minneapolis for its move to require all flavored tobacco products to be sold in adults-only tobacco stores.

She'd like to see other cities follow suit.


Rise of e-cigarettes

While youth smoking has dropped, e-cigarette use has become especially popular with 18- to 24-year-olds - with nearly 13 percent of them indulging.

And underage smokers can easily buy e-cigarette products online, said Jason McCoy, tobacco coordinator for PartnerSHIP 4 Health.

McCoy and Mason would like to see laws changed so that e-cigarettes are regulated like cigarettes.

"We work through the Public Health Law Center to offer sample language for local government ordinances," Mason said.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that often look like cigarettes, but produce an inhaled aerosol. Their use is commonly called vaping.

So who are these e-cigarette users? About 23 percent are former smokers.

Only about 12 percent of those who "vape" have never smoked cigarettes, according to the Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey, which has been conducted five times since 1999.


The survey shows that lots of smokers are also using e-cigarettes to quit, apparently with some success.

The percentage of smokers who successfully quit rose from 12.8 percent to 15.6 percent since 2010, although that is not considered a statistically significant increase.

But that percentage rose at the same time that the use of traditional "stop-smoking" products plummeted.

The percentage of those who used nicotine patches, gum or prescription medications declined from 46 percent to 28 percent.

And the percentage of those who used counseling services, such as a stop-smoking hotline, declined from 20 percent to 9 percent.

More than 45 percent of smokers who tried to quit said they used e-cigarettes in their last attempt.

Money up in smoke

In 2013 the Minnesota Legislature raised the tax on cigarettes by $1.60 per pack.


That inspired the majority of smokers to think about quitting, 48 percent to cut down on cigarettes and 44 percent to make quit attempts.

Of those who managed to quit, more than 62 percent said the price hike helped them make a quit attempt, and not to smoke again.

Nonetheless, in the last legislative session, smoking opponents had to beat back attempts to roll back those tobacco taxes, Mason said.

"The industry still has a lot of lobbyists, but we were successful in keeping it out of kids' hands," she said.

All in all, Minnesotans are smoking at the lowest rates in history: Just 14 percent of adults in the state smoke, down from 16 percent in 2010.

But a number of minority groups still have a big problem with cigarettes - 59 percent of American Indians in Minnesota smoke, for example.

And more homes have become smoke-free zones.

Since Minnesota workplaces became smoke-free in 2007, Minnesotans have increasingly made their homes smoke-free.


Today, about 89 percent of homes have smoke-free rules. Even 61 percent of smokers now make their homes smoke-free.

Minnesotans are now much more likely to be exposed to tobacco smoke at a building entrance than in a home or in a car.

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