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Healthy Kids: Smoking

This interactive dashboard and analysis explore smoking among Colorado's high schoolers using data from the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.
Published: September 27, 2016 | Updated: May 3, 2017

Holy smokes! Fewer Colorado high school students are smoking cigarettes, but many appear to be switching to electronic vapor smoking devices for their nicotine fix.

Those are among the findings of the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which collects health information from Colorado public school students.

The 2015 results found that 8.6 percent of students smoked cigarettes in the previous month, down from 10.7 percent in the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. High school smoking in Colorado is just slightly lower than the national average of 9.3 percent.

Rates of teen smoking vary considerably by geography, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity.

Rural students are much more likely to try smoking cigarettes than urbanites. In Arapahoe County (Health Statistics Region 15), 14.6 percent of students said that they had tried smoking an entire cigarette. But right next door in more rural Lincoln, Elbert, Kit Carson, and Cheyenne counties (Health Statistics Region 5), 38.6 percent of students report that they have tried smoking a cigarette.

About one of five lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) students (20.6 percent) reported smoking one or more cigarettes in the past 30 days, a rate three times higher than their heterosexual classmates (6.8 percent).

There are racial and ethnic differences as well. Just over 13 percent of multiracial students smoke, while only 4.7 percent of black students smoke. White and Hispanic students both fall in the middle at 8.3 percent.

More than half (57 percent) of high school students believe it would be easy for them to get cigarettes if they wanted to, and only one of three underage students (31.8 percent) said that they were refused when they tried to buy them.

Easier access is found in regions with above average cigarette use. Lake, Chaffee, Fremont, and Custer counties (Health Statistics Region 13), have the highest rate of cigarette smoking by high schoolers at 19.5 percent and the highest rate who said it’s easy to get a cigarette at 71.3 percent. Denver County (Health Statistics Region 20), which reported the lowest smoking rate in the state at 5.9 percent, also has the second lowest proportion of students reporting easy access at 51.9 percent.

Meanwhile, though cigarette smoking is declining, more than one of four students (26.1 percent) reported they have used an electronic vapor device to smoke at least once in the past 30 days. This percentage is highest among LGB students, with 37.4 percent having recently used vaporizers.

The 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is the first to ask questions about these devices, which use a small cartridge of nicotine-containing product and an atomizer to turn the liquid into a smoke-like vapor that can be inhaled.

Nearly half (46.2 percent) of high school students say they have tried using an E-vapor device. That’s more than twice the 20.0 percent who said they had ever smoked a cigarette.

The FDA began regulating vaporizers in August 2016. While their short- or long-term health effects are still largely unknown, the case against cigarettes is clear: Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States

Stay tuned for more reports on substance use from the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.