Tobacco usage among middle and high school students in New York is on the decline, with vaping and e-cigarette usage dropping in recent years following a ban on flavored vaping products, a report released this week by the state Department of Health found.
The report was among a trio of surveys and studies on tobacco usage in New York, which is also broadly in decline over the last generation among young people and adults.
The drop in tobacco usage comes as New York's cigarette tax is set to rise by $1 as part of an agreement last month in the $229 billion state budget.
"We have the highest and strongest tobacco tax in the country and we are able to really understand that will have a big impact," said Dr. Jennifer Lee, the director of the Bureau of Tobacco Control.
The New York Youth Tobacco Survey found a generation-long decline in cigarette smoking among middle and high school students, dropping from 27.1% to 2.1%. E-cigarette usage is also declining from 27.4% in 2018 to 18.7% in 2022 -- a 32% drop.
Separately, an annual telephone survey found smoking among adults dropped from 14.1% to 12% in New York between 2017 and 2021. Officials hope to reach an 11% rate in New York by 2024.
Meanwhile, an independent assessment linked New York's policies to the drop in tobacco usage rates.
Health officials and anti-smoking advocates expect the tax increase will lead to an even further drop in tobacco usage.
"Past evidence shows that it really does impact tobacco use, that with every dollar that increases in tobacco taxes, the smoking rate does go down – especially with young people," said Jeanie Orr of Capital District Tobacco Free Communities.
But the surveys show more work is needed, especially when it comes to curbing menthol usage, Orr said. Gov. Kathy Hochul's proposal to do so was rejected by state lawmakers in the budget negotiations. State lawmakers have pointed to federal regulators considering a national menthol ban later this year.
"It’s readily available when you go to the neighborhoods populated mostly by African Americans, you see a lot of menthol cigarettes sold in those communities," she said.
There's also an expectation tobacco usage will continue to decline in New York in the coming years through a combination of state policies as well as continued promotion of health hazards.
"Follow common sense and what’s worked is education along with changing the environment, where we live, where we play and where we shop, in the stores," Orr said.
But the state health department's Dr. Ola Fajobi says a more targeted approach for vulnerable groups could lead to further declines.
"What I’m looking for now is to see how we can incorporate more health equity principles into the work we do," Fajobi said. "We’ve done a great job so far in New York state, but the result shows there’s more work to be done."