Last Updated: January 2020
Author: Tobacco Control Program
In 1995, the prevalence of youth smokers in Vermont was 40%. In 2015, it was 11% which is similar to the national average. Two years later the youth smoking rate dropped to 9% (2017 YRBS) which exceeded our Healthy Vermonter 2020 goal - and most recently dropped to 7% as measured in the 2019 YRBS!
The Tobacco Control Program in collaboration with its partners including advocates, health voluntary organizations, the Tobacco Evaluation and Review Board and legislators, have worked diligently to reduce tobacco’s harm to youth. Achievements since the early 90’s include prohibiting cigarette sales to minors, creating smoke-free schools, prohibiting vending machine sales and establishing Vermont Kids Against Tobacco (VKAT) youth coalition effort. Subsequently, in addition to tobacco tax increases and other restrictions passed in the Vermont legislature, the current prevalence of youth smoking is 67% less than it was twenty years ago. While establishing Vermont’s Healthy People 2020 goals, the program adopted the national benchmark in setting the target goal of 10% youth prevalence.
Multiple efforts have contributed to the declining prevalence in the last 20 years. Since 2009, Vermont’s Tobacco Control Program has systematized the technical assistance and training provided to youth and community coalitions in order to increase awareness and implementation strategies per best practice guidelines. An important component of prevention is to shift social norms to tobacco-free, raise awareness of tobacco’s danger and impact on health, reduce the impact of tobacco advertising on youth initiation, and create healthy environments which support tobacco-free lifestyles. The program added Our Voices Xposed (OVX) in 2001 to mobilize high school youth in tobacco control issues. Tobacco programs assess their progress in prevention through reducing initiation among youth by monitoring the proportion that smoke their first whole cigarette by the age of 13. Vermont has seen a significant decline in youth smoking initiation which was 6% in 2015 (YRBS 2015).
A continued emphasis for youth engagement through VKAT and OVX is to engage community members around tobacco issues aided by collaborating with the Agency of Education. In 2015, the program implemented a successful youth engagement initiative titled Free My Ride, which focused on increasing awareness of the dangers posed by smoking in vehicles when children are present. In 2016, OVX youth brought attention to the sharp rise in e-cigarette use by teens. The program has implemented Down and Dirty as a method of engaging rural youth with tobacco-free branding and an educational campaign CounterBalance to bring attention to the dangers of flavors and how they are used to initiate youth to tobacco. Since 2017, community grantees and youth have been collecting concern cards, spoke to the media about flavored tobacco, and participated in a photo voice project highlighting what tobacco access and promotion looks like in their communities.
The program has been identifying and tackling issues that detrimentally impact youth’s vulnerability to tobacco. Youth efforts have focused on the need for smoke-free places like parks, beaches, school grounds and cars. Over the past several years the program has worked with advocates and partners on tightening youth’s access and exposure to both tobacco and tobacco substitutes culminating in Act 135. This piece of legislation bans the use of e-cigarettes and paraphernalia, both of which can be pathways to smoking, on school grounds and at school events. Act 135 also included bans on smoking cigarettes in cars with children under 8 years old. In 2016 Act 108 was passed to restrict the use of e-cigarettes wherever lit tobacco products are banned. These bills are key to protecting health and safeguarding social norms. In 2019 the Vermont Legislature passed a set of prevention acts to ban e-cigarette sales online without a wholesale license, create a tax on e-cigarettes (defined as tobacco substitutes), and raised from 18 to 21 the legal age to purchase tobacco products.