Albany County legislators are deciding whether to ban all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Driven by the best of intentions and cheered by public health groups, Albany is racing towards being the first county in the U.S. to enact such a prohibition.
States across the country had the opportunity to pass similar legislation this year, but all declined to do so. That’s not a coincidence.
From the Royal College of Physicians to the National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, the medical consensus is clear that e-cigarettes are substantially safer than traditional cigarettes. Though most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, that’s not what sends 480,000 Americans to an early grave every year. Instead, it’s the smoke that comes from lighting tobacco on fire. Detach nicotine from cigarettes, and you give smokers the nicotine they desire without the smoke that may kill them.
According to researchers at Georgetown University, “up to 6.6 million cigarette smokers will live substantially longer if cigarette smoking is replaced by vaping over a 10-year period.”
But critics claim e-cigarette flavors are especially appealing to youth and are responsible for the surge in teen vaping. Adult smokers, it’s argued, have little use for mango flavored e-liquid. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every survey of adult vapers shows that non-tobacco flavors are the most popular option for adults trying to quit smoking. Not only that, but a growing body of research shows these flavors provide an easier path out of smoking dependence than traditional flavors.
Banning flavored e-cigarettes puts an extra barrier in front of smokers trying to switch to vaping, especially those who don’t have the means to avoid or evade local prohibitions and could end up incentivizing some vapers to lapse back to smoking.
A 2017 study by researchers from the Yale School of Public Health found “a ban on flavored e-cigarettes would drive smokers to combustible cigarettes, which have been found to be the more harmful way of getting nicotine.” The authors concluded banning flavors “reduces the appeal of e-cigarettes to those who are seeking to quit (smoking); e-cigarettes have proven useful as a cessation device for these individuals, and we find that quitters have a preference for flavored e-cigarettes.”
Instead of protecting youth from nicotine, banning e-cigarette flavors removes a path for adult smokers to quit. That’s a view shared by Michael Siegel, professor of Community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health. “By creating barriers to a much healthier product, these laws will simply force former smokers to return to cigarette smoking,” writes Siegel. “Lawmakers are doing a huge favor not for the public’s health, but for Marlboro, which is going to see a windfall in the ex-smoker market as all of its competition from vaping products and most of its competition from the No. 2 brand (Newport) is eliminated.”
No teenager should be vaping, smoking, drinking alcohol, or using marijuana. But the response to teen use of adult products should not be all out prohibition with all the ensuing problems that stem from illicit markets.
There’s no reason why one of the safest and most popular alternatives to smoking can’t be kept on the market for adults but kept out of the hands of kids.