Nicotine and Harm Reduction Newsletter – December 2018
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Harm Reduction Newsletter

Nicotine and Harm Reduction Newsletter – December 2018

The U.S. Surgeon General made an extraordinary intervention into the debate over e-cigarettes and tobacco harm reduction calling for vaping bans and higher taxes to stem the rise of teen vaping.

Federal Updates

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams made an extraordinary intervention into the debate over e-cigarettes and tobacco harm reduction, issuing a rare advisory on December 18th, calling for indoor vaping bans and higher taxes to stem the rise of teen vaping.

Adams argued nicotine is “very and uniquely harmful” to the developing brain and youth who are using e-cigarettes are significantly more likely to take up smoking and could be primed for other addictions. While both claims made by the Surgeon General are questionable, to say the least, Adams also ignored the unintended consequences for adult smokers concerning narrowing the price differential between combustible cigarettes and e-cigarettes with higher taxes and limiting the appeal of vaping by including e-cigarettes in all locations where smoking is prohibited by law. “There’s a huge gap in the public’s knowledge about the risks of nicotine use in terms of how it is delivered,” said Consumer Choice Center Senior Fellow Jeff Stier. “I fear that this advisory will only widen that gap, rather than inform adult smokers about the significant difference in risk between cigarettes and noncombustible nicotine alternatives which can help them quit smoking.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a meeting of the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) to discuss an amendment from Swedish Match to their modified risk tobacco product (MRTP) application for General Snus as well as the MRTP application submitted by U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company (USSTC) for Copenhagen Snuff Fine Cut tobacco. The meeting is scheduled for February 6-7, 2019, at the FDA White Oak campus.

Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Michelle Minton authored a report documenting the perverse incentives for public health groups to stir up fear and sow confusion about the dangers of e-cigarettes and their benefits to public health. The paper convincingly demonstrates that the division between the public perception of e-cigarettes and the underlying scientific reality is the result of a concerted campaign by public health activists who are hostile to tobacco harm reduction products for both financial and ideological reasons. You can read “Fear Profiteers: How E-cigarette Panic Benefits Public Health Activists” here.

State Updates

Six California lawmakers are pushing a bill to ban all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarette flavors to combat youth use. Should the bill pass, a violation of would result in penalties of $400 to $600 for the first offense and go up to $6,000 for a fifth in five years.

The Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of vape shop owner Paul Bates in the Oregon District Court. Goldwater is challenging Oregon regulations requiring e-cigarette retailers to censor labels that accurately describe their e-liquid products, such as the use of the word “strawberry.” “While proponents of Oregon’s regulations say they’re trying to protect children, these rules not only hurt consumers, but they hurt the free speech rights of hardworking small business owners trying to make a living,” said Goldwater Institute Senior Attorney Matt Miller. You can read more about the case here.

Science and Harm Reduction

The U.K. government largely accepted the recommendations of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s seventh report on e-cigarettes. The government has committed that after the U.K’s exit from the European Union, it will consider a review of the ban on snus smokeless tobacco, limits on nicotine strengths in e-cigarettes, and e-cigarette advertising restrictions.

The latest data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey shows a rise in teen vaping similar to that shown in the National Youth Tobacco Survey, with the percentage of 12th-grade students vaping nicotine in the past 30-days rising from 11 percent to 21 percent. What the survey’s authors didn’t highlight was the decline in teen smoking to the lowest level on record, with 7.6 percent of 12th graders reporting they had smoked a cigarette in the past month.


In the Orange County Register, Reason Foundation’s Guy Bentley warned of the dangers and unintended consequences that could stem from California’s proposed bill to ban e-cigarette flavors.

Reason magazine Senior Editor Jacob Sullum drew attention to the MTF survey data showing teen smoking rates declining to historic lows over the same time period that teen vaping increased.

Sullum also criticized the Surgeon General’s advisory on e-cigarettes. Sullum warned that raising the price of e-cigarettes will deter adult smokers from switching and extending smoking bans to vaping eliminate one of the advantages e-cigarettes have over traditional smokes. Sullum notes: “This is the second advisory Adams has issued, USA Today notes. The first ‘urged people to carry the overdose antidote naloxone’ as a way of preventing opioid-related deaths. In that case, Adams was promoting harm reduction. Now he is actively undermining it.”

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