State Survey Shows Disturbing Rise in Youth Tobacco Use

Youth tobacco use increased for the first time in 17 years, due to easy access to e-cigarettes, aggressive tobacco industry marketing and kid-friendly flavors 

St. Paul, MN (2/15/18) – Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of 50 organizations working to reduce youth tobacco use, is urging action to counter trends revealed in the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey, released today by the Minnesota Department of Health. For the first time in 17 years, youth tobacco use in Minnesota has increased, according to the survey of more than 4,000 middle-school and high-school students. Findings show more than 26 percent of high-school students use tobacco products, up 7 percent since 2014. It’s the first time since the survey began in 2000 that high-school tobacco use increased.

“For the first time in nearly two decades, more high-school students are using commercial tobacco – a frightening trend driven by a sharp rise in e-cigarette use and by Big Tobacco’s marketing to our kids,” said Molly Moilanen, Director of Public Affairs for ClearWay Minnesota and Co-Chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation. “Nicotine harms the developing adolescent brain, whether in a cigarette, e-cigarette or other product. The explosion of e-cigarette use is no surprise, given their easy access, prolific advertising and kid-friendly flavors. Minnesota must take immediate action to keep our young people from getting hooked on commercial tobacco products in all forms.” 

Key findings from the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey include: 

  • Minnesota has seen a nearly 50 percent surge in high-school students using e-cigarettes (from 13 percent in 2014 to 19 percent in 2017).
  • The vast majority of students – 88 percent – reported they have seen ads promoting e-cigarettes. Nearly twice as many students who report seeing e-cigarette ads on social media “all the time” use e-cigarettes (37 percent) as those who see ads less often (19 percent).
  • Youth have easy access to e-cigarettes, with 32 percent of underage high-school e-cigarette users and 20 percent of middle-school users reporting that they got or bought e-cigarettes from a retail outlet.
  • 67 percent of high-school tobacco users and nearly 60 percent of middle-school tobacco users reported using flavored products.
  • The number of high-school students who reported smoking cigars or cigarillos is up nearly 30 percent (from 8 percent in 2014 to 11 percent in 2017).
  • Cigarette use among youth continues to decline. 9.6 percent of high-school students reported smoking cigarettes in the last 30 days, down from 10.5 percent in 2014. 

“The Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey shows we need to step up our statewide tobacco prevention measures,” Moilanen added. “The decrease in cigarette smoking is good news, but the overall rise in youth tobacco use should alarm parents, lawmakers and all Minnesotans. Raising the legal age for tobacco products to 21 and restricting the sale of kid-friendly flavored tobacco products are common-sense steps Minnesota should take to protect our kids from a lifetime of addiction.”

Tobacco products flavored like candy, menthol and fruit are attractive to kids and can lead to a lifetime of tobacco addiction and disease. Most kids start using tobacco with flavored tobacco products, which may mask the harshness of tobacco, but are just as addictive and dangerous as other tobacco products.

The Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey points to the success of sustained efforts to lower youth cigarette smoking rates. Since 2000, Minnesota has seen a 70 percent decrease in cigarette use by high-school students, due to high prices and decades of tobacco prevention efforts. Thanks to these efforts, high-school student cigarette smoking is at an all-time low, but that progress is threatened by tobacco industry tactics to target a new generation of customers. 

Tobacco companies in Minnesota spend more than $110.5 million annually on advertising and marketing. Nearly 95 percent of addicted adult smokers start before age 21, and the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey results should be a red flag that tobacco industry targeting of kids threatens the progress the state has made to reduce tobacco’s harm.


About Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation 

Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation supports policies that reduce youth smoking and help end the death and disease associated with tobacco use, including raising the tobacco age to 21, limiting youth access to menthol-, candy- and fruit- flavored tobacco, keeping tobacco prices high and funding future tobacco prevention and cessation efforts.

Partners include: A Healthier Southwest, African American Leadership Forum, Allina Health March of Dimes, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, Medica, American Lung Association in Minnesota, Apple Tree Dental, Association for Nonsmokers – Minnesota, Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Corporation, Becker County Energize, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CentraCare Health, Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, ClearWay MinnesotaSM,  Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio – CLUES, Dodge County Public Health, Essentia Health, Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, HealthEast, Perham Health, HealthPartners, Hennepin County Medical Center, Hope Dental Clinic, Horizon Public Health, Indigenous Peoples Task Force, ISAIAH, LAAMPP Institute, Lake Region Healthcare, Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative, Local Public Health Association of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic, Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, Minnesota Cancer Alliance, Minnesota Council of Health Plans, Minnesota Hospital Association, Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Oral Health Coalition, Minnesota Public Health Association, MN Association of Community Health Centers, MN Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Model Cities of St. Paul, Inc., NAMI Minnesota, North Memorial Health Care, NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, PartnerSHIP 4 Health, Rainbow Health Initiative, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Steele County Public Health, Tobacco Free Alliance, Twin Cities Medical Society, UCare, Vision In Living Life "Change is Possible" and WellShare International. Find out more at:

Note: ‘Tobacco’ refers specifically to the use of manufactured, commercial tobacco products, and not to the sacred, medicinal and traditional use of tobacco by American Indians and other groups.

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  • Outline of Minnesota

    Our Mission

    Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation is a coalition of Minnesota organizations that share a common goal of saving Minnesota youth from a lifetime of addiction to tobacco. Each year in Minnesota tobacco use is responsible for more than 6,300 deaths and more than $3 billion in preventable health care costs and 95 percent of adult smokers started before the age of 21. The coalition supports policies that reduce youth smoking, including keeping tobacco prices high, raising the tobacco sale age to 21, limiting access to candy-, fruit- and menthol-flavored tobacco and funding future tobacco prevention programs.

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