When it comes to Minnesota high school students’ smoking habits, there’s good and bad news.
The good: Cigarette use is down.
The percent of high-school students who smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days dropped nearly by half in the last three years — from 18.1 percent in 2011 to 10.6 percent in 2014, according to the state’s latest survey on youth tobacco use, released Monday.
The bad: About one in eight high school students reported having used e-cigarettes.
For the first time, the survey also asked about e-cigarette use, and found that nearly 13 percent of high school students and 3 percent of middle school students had used or tried an e-cigarette in the last month. Twenty-eight percent of high-schoolers reported having tried an e-cigarette.
Winona Senior High School assistant principal Dave Anderson said he doesn’t catch many students smoking traditional cigarettes at school, but that “e-cigarettes have taken off dramatically” since the end of the last school year.
School officials this year have busted one kid for smoking traditional cigarettes on campus versus five for e-cigarettes, Anderson said.
That may be because kids think they can get away with it.
Because e-cigarettes emit vapor instead of smoke, they can be more discreet, Anderson said, whereas cigarettes have a very distinct and detectable odor. If kids are going to smoke traditional cigarettes, they probably would travel off campus to do it, he said.
It’s also about attitudes.
“A lot of kids look at e-cigarettes and think that they’re not that big of a deal,” Anderson said.
But they are, at least in the eyes of the law — it’s illegal for minors to possess them and against the rules for any student to have them on school property.
Staff emphasize those points at the beginning of the school year in class meetings, and they are also included in the student handbook, Anderson said.
Still, there’s work to do, he said.
“We need to continue to educate our kids that’s not something that they need to have at school, or at all,” Anderson said.
Students don’t paint such a rosy picture of high school smoking, either.
When asked about the prevalence of smoking among his peers, WSHS 11th-grader Jarrett Curtis grimaced.
“Yeah, it’s big,” he said.
It mostly happens off campus, freshman Krista Brommerich explained — there’s the big, well-known nearby tree in Lake Park where students tend to go to smoke.
Not all of them do, though.
“I think it’s stupid,” 11th-grader Justin Kouleel said. “Because you can die from it.”
The three agreed that about half of the student body probably smoked in one form or another — including e-cigarettes. Kouleel said he’d once seen a student smoking one in a school bathroom.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.