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New Survey Shows that Despite Continued Progress, 2.55 Million Kids Used Tobacco Products in 2021 and 79% Used Flavored Products

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
March 10, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The results of the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) released today show that despite continued progress, youth tobacco use remains a serious public health problem in the United States, and it is driven by use of flavored products like flavored e-cigarettes, flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes.

The survey shows that 2.55 million middle and high school students reported using tobacco products in the first half of 2021, even as many schools were closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Used by 2.06 million of these students, e-cigarettes are by far the most commonly used tobacco product among kids. About 8 in 10 of all current youth tobacco users (79.1%) and 85% of youth e-cigarette users reported using flavored products, underscoring the need for the FDA and other policymakers to eliminate these flavored products once and for all.

Administered January to May 2021, this NYTS was the first to be fully conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with about half the students completing the online survey in schools and half completing it at home or other locations. The CDC and the FDA cautioned that the 2021 results cannot be compared to previous years because of pandemic-related changes in methodology.

In very positive news, the survey shows that youth cigarette smoking rates are at historically low levels, with just 1.9% of high school students reporting current use of cigarettes. While these results may be impacted by the pandemic and changes in how the survey was conducted, the low youth smoking rates also continue a remarkable long-term trend. This is a public health success story that will save lives for generations to come.

With students now back in school, we face the real risk of a resurgence in youth tobacco use, especially e-cigarette use, unless policymakers take action to eliminate the flavored products that are driving youth use. The FDA must finish its review of e-cigarette marketing applications without further delay and clear the market of all flavored e-cigarettes. The FDA should also swiftly finalize and implement the regulations needed to implement its bold plan to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. State and local efforts to end the sale of flavored tobacco product also remain critical, especially in light of tobacco industry efforts to block or delay FDA actions.

In addition to driving down overall youth tobacco use, the elimination of flavored tobacco products will help to address the disparities in tobacco use identified in the NYTS, including higher rates of tobacco use among LGBT youth and higher rates of combustible tobacco use, specifically cigar use, among Black youth. These groups have been targeted by the tobacco industry with marketing for flavored products, including menthol cigarettes.

These survey results show that it is within our reach to create the first tobacco-free generation, but only if policymakers take strong action to finish the job and stop tobacco companies from addicting a new generation with flavored products.