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E-cigarettes gaining popularity

JACKSON — Newly published results from the 2018 Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey show more people are turning to e-cigarettes to get their nicotine fix.

The survey, spearheaded by Clearway Minnesota, also reveals that progress to reduce tobacco use among the state’s residents has stalled since Minnesotans were last surveyed in 2014.

Luke Ewald, Tobacco Prevention Lead with Community Wellness Partners in Cottonwood, Jackson and Nobles counties, said approximately 574,000 Minnesotans smoke. It’s the lowest smoking rate ever recorded among Minnesota adults.

“For the first time since 2007, the percentage of Minnesotans who have never smoked saw a statistically significant increase from about 58 percent in 2014 to just over 60 percent in 2018,” Ewald shared.

So, who is lighting up in Minnesota? According to the survey’s results, 18 percent of those ages 25 to 44 smoke, as do 16 percent of people ages 45 to 64, 9 percent of people ages 18 to 24, and 5 percent of people age 65 and older.

From those results, Ewald said there has been a dramatic decrease in cigarette smoking among young adults, those ages 18-24, with a nearly 50 percent drop from 2014 to 2018. However, e-cigarette use in that same age bracket has nearly doubled in the same four-year span.

While cigarettes continue to be the leader among Minnesota’s adult smokers, e-cigarette use is gaining in popularity. Smaller percentages of tobacco users say their product of choice are cigars, smokeless (chewing) tobacco, water pipes and pipes.

“Overall, there’s been some decreases, but the exception would be the e-cigarette, which had just a slight increase for adults,” Ewald said.

With more than 15,500 flavors of e-cigarette juices marketed to consumers — the number of flavors has doubled in just the past few years — it seems clear that smokers are looking for a product that appeals to their taste buds.

More than a quarter of cigarette smokers have a preference for menthol, noted Ewald, saying there’s a push in the metro area to ban cigarettes containing the added flavoring.

“If you ban menthol-flavored tobacco, it’s a way to prevent youth from starting to use any form of tobacco,” Ewald said.

Meanwhile, with e-cigarettes, smokers can find virtually any flavor, from menthol to chocolate, and from cotton candy to Waffle Crisp cereal. And, because there is really no regulation on e-cigarettes at this time, there’s no telling how much nicotine users are getting into their system.

What Ewald finds alarming is that in the 2018 survey, 44 percent of adult e-cigarette users reported they’ve never smoked cigarettes, compared to 12 percent in 2014.

“Among young adults, 73 percent of e-cigarette users say they never smoke cigarettes, compared to just over 30 percent in 2014,” he said. “It just really seems that e-cigarettes are becoming a fan favorite.”

And it’s the flavors that have them coming back for more. Ewald said 80 percent of adult Minnesotans say they use flavored e-cigarettes, while 97 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds use only flavored e-cigs.

Some are using e-cigarettes as a way to wean themselves from, or entirely stop using, cigarettes or other tobacco products.

“Although not a proven smoking cessation option, 38 percent of smokers reported using them in their last attempt,” noted Ewald. “The thing with e-cigarettes is they’re promoted with nicotine free or certain levels of nicotine. Most, because they’re not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), they still have nicotine in them.

“For those thinking they can vape as an alternative, they don’t know exactly how much nicotine they’re getting because it’s not well regulated,” he added. “When it will be regulated is hard to tell because of the court process with the big tobacco industry and the federal government.”

The tobacco survey also revealed that fewer Minnesota smokers attempted to quit in 2018. Approximately 260,000 adult Minnesota smokers — 46 percent — reported they’d had a quit attempt in the preceding 12 months. That compares to 54 percent reported in 2014.

Survey Says:

  • Approximately 574,000 Minnesota adults smoke. Rates are highest among the less educated and lower income.
  • Minnesotans with less than a high school education have the highest smoking rate at 33.4 percent.
  • Fewer smokers are making quit attempts. Just 45.7 percent of Minnesota smokers reported making a quit attempt in the past 12 months, down from 53.4 percent in 2014.
  • Menthol cigarettes are used by 27.5 percent of all smokers. Those with less than a high school education have the highest menthol use rate of all education groups at 37.2 percent.
  • Flavored e-cigarettes attract young adults: 96.7 percent report their usual brand of e-cigarettes is flavored.
  • Minnesotans with smoke-free home rules has increased to 92 percent (from 89.3 percent in 2014). Even 66.3 percent of smokers have smoke-free home rules.
Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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