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Tobacco Use Increasing Among Teens in Santa Clara County Schools​, Study Finds

According to Santa Clara County, almost 1 in 3 Santa Clara County teens have tried vaping — that’s over 31 percent of the local teenage population.

New data released this week shows widespread and increasing use of e-cigarettes, or vapes, among high school students in Santa Clara County and across California. More than 31 percent of teens, or 1 in 3, surveyed in Santa Clara County reported that they have tried e-cigarettes. Some of this group were already regular users of vapes despite their young age.

More than 13 percent of teens in the survey currently used e-cigarettes — meaning that they reported vaping in the last month. At the same time, use of combustible cigarettes by youth in the County in the past month declined to a low of 1.4 percent. This is a decrease since 2015 – 2016, when a previous study of middle and high school students found that 3 percent of youth in the county used combustible cigarettes in the past month.


The California Student Tobacco Survey reached students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades at 18 schools in Santa Clara County. This is the largest county-wide survey of local youth tobacco use since the broad introduction of e-cigarettes to the market. The rate of youth who are current users of e-cigarettes in Santa Clara County — 13 percent — remains lower than that of the country as a whole, which stands at 27 percent. However, the Santa Clara County rate is higher than the state of California’s 11 percent.

“Today’s youth are our future,” said Supervisor Susan Ellenberg. “We must empower them with the tools necessary to make positive choices for themselves. Santa Clara County is doing better than the national average, but that is not enough when 1 in 3 high school students are using e-cigarettes. We can, and must, do better.”

The survey asked about access to tobacco products, use of those products, and students’ perceptions of new tobacco products like vape pens and e-cigarettes, as well as long-established products such as combustible cigarettes.

The survey also found that 82.6 percent of teens currently using tobacco reported using a flavored product. Use of flavored products was widespread across all tobacco products and all demographic categories.

Concerningly, more than 2 in 5 teens — 45.4 percent — reported purchasing their own e-cigarettes, with over a quarter of this group saying they buy them directly from a local store. Among those who purchased e-cigarettes in a local store, 62.5 percent purchased them at a vape shop. It is illegal for any retailer to sell any tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to youth under the age of 21 in California. It is also against the law for adult tobacco shops to allow youth under the age of 21 on the premises, unless they have someone of legal age accompanying them.

Full survey results are available at​

“E-cigarettes and other vape products contain many chemicals — some known to the consumer, and some not — and we don’t fully know what the harms of these substances might be in the short and long term,” said Dr. Sara Cody, County of Santa Clara Health Officer and Director of the Public Health Department. “What we do know, however, is that e-cigarettes and other vape products containing nicotine are harmful to the developing brain, which includes the adolescent brain.”

The County of Santa Clara Public Health Department partners with schools, government, and community organizations to prevent youth use of tobacco. Over the past two years, the Department has provided community workshops and presentations to more than 2,000 youth, parents, and school staff, and provided more than 250 hours of technical assistance to support the implementation of tobacco prevention strategies known to have the greatest impact on reducing youth tobacco use.

The Department supports youth-led clubs at schools: students educate their peers, invite their city’s Mayor to the school to discuss youth vaping, meet with nonprofit organizations, share their stories with the news media, and present at conferences.

The Public Health Department added funding to this state of California data collection in order to increase the number of students and schools surveyed locally, providing more complete and accurate data about youth here. Proposition 56 and Proposition 99 tobacco excise tax revenue covered the costs of expanding the number of survey participants in Santa Clara County.

In Santa Clara County, 1 in 8 deaths annually is attributed to smoking, including smoking-related deaths due to cancer, heart disease, and respiratory diseases. Tobacco use is still the number one preventable cause of death and disease in California, killing nearly 40,000 Californians every year. Tobacco use carries a hefty price tag, both in the annual cost of $689 million in Santa Clara County, and impacts on families due to preventable diseases.

In Santa Clara County, 18 schools that were selected to participate in the survey completed data collection. Participating schools receive a small stipend to cover the costs of survey administration. Students participate voluntarily and anonymously through an electronic survey procedure overseen by contracted researchers. Schools that participate in the survey also receive a school-level report of results from the survey.

The state of California began the survey in the 2001-2002 school year, and it is implemented every two years. Parents receive notification about the survey before its administration. Working with the researchers, most schools choose to require parents to opt-out if they do not want their children to participate, though schools can choose to require affirmative consent from parents instead. This year, the survey was implemented by University of California San Diego researchers, under contract with the state of California Department of Public Health.


1 Comment
  1. Linda Reynolds 5 years ago

    One does not vape tobacco. The misuse of the word will be confusing to folks who don’t know any better.

    An e-cig may contain liquid nicotine, extracted from tobacco. You should properly be referring to NICOTINE in almost every instance where you say tobacco.

    It’s very good that young people aren’t smoking cigarettes as much as they used to because the particulates in the smoke are the cancer-causing agents.

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