FARGO — Smoking rates are pretty much stagnant for adults in North Dakota and Minnesota, but the states are concerned and keeping a close eye on electronic cigarette use rising among youth.
"This is an epidemic now and I expect the numbers to skyrocket," said Neil Charvat, director of the North Dakota Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.
When North Dakota first started tracking use of e-cigarettes — also known as vape pens or e-cigs — in 2011, less than 2 percent of high school students reportedly used the nicotine delivery systems, according to Department of Health data.
The most recent data from 2017 show that rate has jumped to more than 20 percent.
This same rate is reflected in Minnesota, where about 19 percent of high school students in 2017 used or tried e-cigs, which is a nearly 50 percent increase from 2014, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health.
E-cig usage, often called "vaping," can entail inhaling marijuana as well as nicotine. A smokeless vapor is exhaled. The devices can resemble pens or USB sticks.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigs are less harmful than regular cigarettes, but that doesn't mean the devices are deemed safe, as e-cigs can contain harmful substances, suck as volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing agents.
In 2014, Minnesota's adult smoking rate was 14.4 percent, compared to 19.9 percent in North Dakota.
Minnesota saw a decline in that rate over the last several years and the rate is now about 13.8 percent.
That's according to a 2018 survey conducted by ClearWay Minnesota and the state's Department of Health.
Minnesota started the tobacco survey in 1999 and results have been released every four years. The drop recorded in 2018 is the smallest decline since the survey's inception.
The most recent data available for North Dakota show that the state saw a slight decline in its adult smoking rate of a little more than 1 percent, to 18.3 percent in 2017, according to the North Dakota Department of Health.