Tobacco use among Minnesota youth on steady decline since 2000

On January 26th, Governor Tim Walz unveiled his budget proposal for the next biennium, FY 22-23, termed Minnesota’s COVID-19 Recovery Budget. The proposal, among other things, aimed to drastically reduce tobacco use among the youth. Gov. Walz proposed a cigarette tax hike and the creation of a new tax on vapor products.

These proposals have now been dropped from the most recent budget proposal. However, efforts aimed at fighting nicotine addiction among the youth are still ongoing and will likely continue in the near future.

Just recently, a bill was passed in the Minnesota house of representatives to raise the excise tax per pack of cigarettes by $1.50. The bill also raises taxes on cigars and other tobacco products by 2 percent. In addition, a bill in the house also wants to ban flavored tobacco and other tobacco products due to their “appeal to the young”.

But are tax hikes the magic bullet that policymakers say they are? Evidence generally suggests that the youth more sensitive to cigarette prices than adults. So to some extent, they do reduce tobacco use when taxes go up. However, more research has shown that, especially in recent years, the youth have become less responsive to taxes.

This is mainly because tax hikes have managed to raise prices so high that people that choose to smoke are what can be called “die-hards”. These are, in essence, much less likely to be swayed by prices.

But moreover, if we look further at the data, tobacco use among the youth has been consistently going down in previous years for Minnesota, even before major tax hikes. This suggests that tobacco use trends have potentially more to do with social factors than tax hikes. Evidence exists supporting the influence of social factors on tobacco use among youth.

Youth tobacco use in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) generally surveys students on tobacco use. And these surveys have been showing a consistent downward trend in tobacco use among students–both middle school and high school students.

Even after accounting for e-cigarettes, MDH data shows that total current tobacco usage– usage in the past 30 days– among High school students was down to 20.5% in 2020, from 38.7% in 2020. Among middle school students, tobacco product usage was down to 4.1% in 2020 from 12.6% in 2000.

Indeed e-cigarette use has been going up, but this has been accompanied by reduced use of more dangerous tobacco products like traditional cigarettes. Research shows that increased e-cigarette use contributes highly to reduced traditional cigarette use.

In 2014, the Minnesota Department of Health reported that students who smoked were more than twice likely to report that they lived with a parent or relative who smoked. In the years that adult tobacco use has declined, we have also seen a decline in youth tobacco use.

This heavily points to the fact that tobacco youth use is heavily an influence of social surroundings–something which the MDH recognizes. And while taxes might play a role, it is certainly not a significant one. Policymakers should know that raising taxes will have little effect on reducing the appeal of smoking to young people.