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As youth smoking rate declines, e-cigarette use skyrockets

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WBFO file photo
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The smoking rate among high school students across the state was the lowest on record in 2016, but state Health Department data singals a dramatic increase in e-cigarette use.

Figures released this week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office indicate that the high school smoking rate dropped to 4.3 percent last year. By comparison, more than 27 percent of high school students were smoking in 2000.

However, e-cigarette use by high school students nearly doubled over a two-year period, from 10.5 percent in 2014 to 20.6 percent last year.

Anthony Billoni, director of Tobacco-Free Western New York at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, said anti-smoking programs have made significant strides in reducing cigarette use among young people. However, he said

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Credit WBFO file photo
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Anthony Billoni, director of Tobacco-Free Western New York

the spike in e-cigarette use is alarming.

“E-cigarettes are not as dangerous as combustible cigarettes, but they do contain nicotine,” Billoni told WBFO. “They  contain harmful chemicals. We’re studying the effects of all that, but one would wonder why anyone would want a teen to be exposed to nicotine -- which is addictive.”

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker called the rapid rise in e-cigarette use among youth “a cause for great concern."

Nationwide data released last year by the U.S. Surgeon General indicated that e-cigarette use by high school students skyrocketed 900 percent between 2011 and 2015.

Anti-smoking advocates have stressed the need to impose new regulations on e-cigarettes.

“Combating teen tobacco use in all of its forms today will help create a healthier tomorrow for an entire generation of New Yorkers,” Governor Cuomo said in a written statement.

WBFO's Marwan Elbliety contributed to this report.

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