More than one-third of Maine youth continue to struggle with mental health challenges, but vaping use has declined, according to a new health survey released on Friday.

The Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey shows the percentage of high school students who vaped during the previous 30 days declined from a high of 29% in 2019 to 16% in 2023. All high school and middle school students in Maine are allowed to take the survey, which the Maine Department of Health and Human Services conducts every two years.

Melissa Hackett, policy associate for the Maine Children’s Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of youth issues, said it’s “very good news” to see the vaping numbers decline.

“I’m hopeful that the shift is partly because there’s increased awareness among youth about the dangers of vaping,” Hackett said. “It’s a promising trend but we need to double down so that fewer young people are being exposed to vaping.”

The Maine Legislature is expected to decide next session whether to approve a ban on flavored tobacco, including vaping products.

The previous survey in 2021 showed a vaping percentage similar to that in 2023 – 17.4% – but experts cautioned that the number could have been artificially low because some pandemic restrictions were still in place, reducing time spent with peers in school and other social situations. The decline from 2019 to 2023 – when schools have returned to a normal schedule for about two years – is considered a more reliable reflection of the trend.


Meanwhile, 35% of high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless for two weeks in a row, nearly the same as the 35.9% in 2021 and a slight increase from the 32.1% who reported depression symptoms in 2019.

Hackett said that mental health challenges among youth are a continuing problem and that Maine needs to expand treatment access. Mental health services – for both youth and adults – are difficult to access because of an overwhelming demand and a lack of supply caused by workforce shortages in the industry.

Mental health care providers told the Press Herald in October that they have waiting lists of as many as 2,000 patients who want to see a counselor. Patients said they have waited months to get professional help while their mental health declined.

“We know it helps mental health to have timely access to the right services, and that continues to be an issue,” Hackett said.

Dr. Puthiery Va, director of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement on Friday that the survey is an “important tool” for data showing how youth “perceive and engage with potentially risky, unhealthy behaviors.”

“Crucially, these survey results also help guide our work with partners in schools and communities to provide education and resources to Maine’s middle and high schoolers to make healthy decisions and feel supported as they navigate the turbulent pre-teen and teen years,” Va said.


The Maine CDC launched a public education campaign against teen vaping in 2019, and the Flavors Hook Kids Maine group has been lobbying for the state and municipalities to end the sale of flavored tobacco products. The group argues that flavors such as raspberry, menthol, cotton candy and vanilla entice youth to start vaping, and then they get quickly hooked on the products.

The Maine Legislature will be taking up the flavored tobacco ban during the next session, which begins in January. The Maine Senate voted in favor of a ban in 2023, but the measure failed to get a vote in the state House. The House is expected to vote on the bill in the session that begins next month. The Mills administration supports the ban on flavored tobacco. An April poll of likely voters in Maine shows that 63% of those surveyed support a flavored tobacco ban.

Meanwhile, several cities and towns have recently banned the sale of flavored tobacco products, including Portland, Falmouth, South Portland, Brunswick, Bar Harbor and Bangor.

Dan Cashman, spokesman for the Flavors Hook Kids Maine campaign, said hopefully part of the reason for the decline is that teens have become more aware of how dangerous vaping is.

“This is not a casual thing – it can almost immediately lead to addiction,” Cashman said.

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