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Hooked on Vaping: Almost half of Arizona kids have vaped by 12th grade

PHOENIX – Almost half of Arizona’s students have vaped by the time they reach 12th grade, according to a statewide survey that shows the rapid rise of e-cigarette use in junior high and high school.

The Arizona Youth Survey is administered every two years by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. It asks eighth, 10th and 12th graders questions about substance use.

The most recent survey released last year found that 27.7% of eighth graders reported they’ve used e-cigarettes or other vaping devices on one or more occasion. That figure was 39.3% for 10th graders and 45.8% for high school seniors.

Each of those grade levels saw an increase of about 10 percentage points from 2016, the first year the survey included a vaping question.

“If trends continue like they have nationally, when we give the survey again in 2020, we would expect it to continue to rise,” said Dustin Pardini, the survey’s primary administrator and an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University.

Pardini said e-cigarettes and other vaping devices are gaining popularity among young people mainly because of the flavors and the fact they’re “much easier” to use than combustible cigarettes.

“It doesn’t involve as much learning how to inhale,” he said. “It’s not as harsh to learn the whole process.”

The next survey, which is set to be released next year, will have additional questions about vaping, including where teens are getting vaping supplies.

It’s already known that teens have been able to get the products at convenience stores and smoke shops despite a state ban on sales to anybody under 18 years old.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Tobacco Enforcement Unit is seeing more retailers across Arizona illegally selling tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to undercover minors. They’re part of a program called Operation Counter Strike.

“We work with undercover youth between the ages of 14 and 17 all across the state of Arizona,” said Erika Mansur, an attorney with the unit. “The goal of the program is to make sure that retailers are complying with the statewide prohibition on the sale of tobacco products to minors.”

Over the last few years, there was a decline of stores selling tobacco products to minors. The rate dropped to under 10% last summer. It was up to 14% as of last week, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

“Unfortunately, the e-cigarette products have really caused all these numbers to go up,” Mansur said. “In the last year is when we’ve seen the biggest spike.”

She added the uptick comes after decades of progress in getting youth to stop smoking cigarettes.

The Arizona Youth Survey echoes that sentiment, showing a steady decline in cigarette smoking among students. In 2014, 35.8% of 12th graders had smoked at least once. That had dropped to 24.1% by 2018.

“While we’ve been very good at getting rid of cigarettes as a problem or starting to reduce it significantly, we’re seeing this dramatic rise of this thing (vaping) that nobody, I don’t think, expected to happen,” Pardini, the survey’s administrator said.

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