Teen cigarette smoking hits record low in Virginia

teen cigarette smokingTeen cigarette smoking in Virginia is at an all-time low – 6.5 percent — according to the results of the 2017 Virginia Youth Survey, which is conducted by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and supported by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY).

Nationally an estimated 7.6 percent of high school students are current cigarette smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


  • 5 percent of Virginia high school students currently drink alcohol,
  • 2 percent are current marijuana users
  • and at least 11.8 percent are current e-cigarette users.

“While we are heartened by the continuing downward trend of youth cigarette smoking, we remain concerned that young people are at risk of marijuana use as well as alcohol and nicotine addiction,” says VFHY Executive Director Marty Kilgore.

“We are equally encouraged by the decline in youth tobacco and e-cigarette use in the Commonwealth,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver. “An integral part of the Virginia Plan for Well-Being is to reduce premature death, disease and disability related to tobacco use among young people by preventing tobacco use and promoting quitting. This survey underscores the importance of collaboration and community engagement in assuring healthier behaviors in our youth and adults.”

In September, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb expressed concerns about a national increase in teen marijuana use. About one out of five U.S. teens (19.8 percent) reported using marijuana in 2017, according to the CDC’s national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey. Research shows that both marijuana and nicotine have adverse effects on developing adolescent brains.

Gottlieb also announced last month that youth e-cigarette usage has become a national “epidemic” and announced the FDA’s intention to curb “kid-friendly” industry marketing practices and retail sales to underage buyers. Gottlieb particularly singled out Juul, the top-selling e-cigarette device on the market. Educators and public health experts report that teens are using Juul, which resembles a USB flash drive, in increasing numbers. Each flavored Juul “pod,” a cartridge of liquid nicotine solution, contains about the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of traditional cigarettes.

It is unclear whether the 11.8 percent of Virginia high school students who reported using e-cigarettes in 2017 included Juul users. The Virginia Youth Survey did not include language about Juul, which teens may consider to be different from an e-cigarette. Juul users typically use the term “juuling” instead of the word vaping, which is associated with other e-cigarette devices.

More than 2 million U.S. middle school and high school students were current e-cigarette users in 2017, according to the CDC, and for the fourth year in a row, the devices were the most commonly used nicotine-delivery products among teens.

The purchase and use of tobacco products and e-cigarettes by children under 18 years of age is prohibited under state law in Virginia.

A scientifically selected sample of more than 11,000 public and charter middle school and high school students were surveyed at more than 140 schools in 55 school districts statewide during fall 2017 for the biennial Virginia Youth Survey. Students were asked about public health topics including tobacco use and other behaviors such as physical activity and dietary habits. Current tobacco, marijuana and e-cigarette use are defined as using a product on at least one day during the 30 days prior to the survey.

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