Nicotine and Harm Reduction Newsletter – April 2019
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Harm Reduction Newsletter

Nicotine and Harm Reduction Newsletter – April 2019

The vapor industry was subjected to an onslaught of attacks on both the federal and state level in the first quarter of 2019.

Federal Updates

The vapor industry has been subjected to an onslaught of attacks on both the federal and state levels in 2019. Scott Gottlieb, the outgoing head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recently warned that pod-based vapor products could be pulled from the market to combat the alleged “epidemic” of youth use.

“We think that these products can offer an alternative for currently addicted adult smokers to migrate off of combustible tobacco onto something that doesn’t have all the same risks associated with it. But it can’t come at the expense of addicting a whole generation of kids onto nicotine through these e-cigarette products,” Gottlieb told CBS this week.  

Gottlieb, who announced last year that most retailers will be forbidden from selling flavored e-cigarettes unless they are adult-only stores or the products are put in separate age-restricted areas, is leaving office today. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar praised Gottlieb’s tenure at FDA and said his policies on tobacco and nicotine regulation would continue. Dr. Norman Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute, will serve as acting commissioner of the FDA. Sharpless has publicly praised Gottlieb’s actions against e-cigarettes.

But it’s no longer just the FDA that is looking to clamp down on the vapor industry. In Congress Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) promised to introduce legislation that would effectively ban the vast majority of e-cigarette flavors outright. To keep their flavors on the market, e-cigarettes manufacturers would have to prove their flavors help adults quit smoking, do not increase youth use, and do not increase the risk of harm to the individual user. The vast majority of manufacturers do not have the resources to comply with these rules. The same bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lisa Murkowski (I-AK).

Additionally, in March, President Donald Trump’s budget proposed a $100 million federal e-cigarette tax. The tax was marketed as a “user fee” intended to fund FDA public health campaigns and regulatory work. 

Back in February, Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Jessica Rosenworcel argued radio and television advertising for e-cigarettes should be banned on the basis of upholding the FCC’s mandate to regulate in the “public interest.” Reason’s Jacob Sullum and Guy Bentley challenged Rosenworcel’s argument on both constitutional and public health grounds.

State Updates

In California, the State Senate’s health committee voted to advance SB 38, which would ban all flavored tobacco products in the state.

As part of New York’s state budget, vapers will begin paying a 20 percent sales tax starting in December 2019.

In a column for the Connecticut Post Bentley highlighted the negative impacts banning flavored e-cigarette products could have on harm reduction and in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel he argued, “In the face of such massive public health gains, it would be irresponsible to put vapor products on the same playing field as cigarettes.”

In February, Bentley testified in Washington state warning legislators of the dangers of taxing e-cigarettes at 95 percent. He also testified before the Rhode Island House Finance Committee in March on the governor’s proposal to include a 40 percent e-cigarettes tax in the state budget.

In Utah, a bill that would’ve taxed e-cigarettes at 86 percent passed the House 54-20 on March 11 but failed to make it to a vote in the Senate before the session closed March 14.

Science and Harm Reduction

In January, the New England Journal of Medicine published a landmark study showing e-cigarettes were almost twice as effective as nicotine replacement therapy at helping smokers quit.

A worrying study published in the Journal of American Medical Association examining the changing perceptions of harm of e-cigarettes versus combustible cigarettes from 2012 to 2017 found the proportion of US adults who perceived e-cigarettes to be as or more harmful than cigarettes increased substantially.  

A survey commissioned by Juul Labs found that nearly half of those surveyed quit smoking within three months while the rest reduced their cigarette consumption by an average of 52 percent. Jacob Sullum covered the study for Reason.com.

Additional Resources

A Question of Taste: The Public Health Case for E-Cigarette Flavors

The World Health Organization’s Opposition to Tobacco Harm Reduction: A Threat to Public Health?

The Vapor Revolution: How Bottom-Up Innovation Is Saving Lives

Reason’s Research and Analysis of Nicotine and Vapor Issues

Guy Bentley is director of consumer freedom at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.