Flavor Ban Hurts Smokers Looking for Harm Reduction

By Elizabeth Sheld

The public was sold a false bill of goods by “grassroots” anti-vaping activists when they crusaded against e-cigarettes and e-cigarette flavors in front of city councils, state houses and the U.S. Congress throughout 2019.

We were told that the seductively delicious flavors of Juuls and other e-cigarettes were luring youngsters to dangerous nicotine products. To curb underage vaping, the government needed to get rid of the flavored nicotine replacement products.

Failed presidential candidate, prolific nanny-stater and billion dollar donor to anti-vape campaigns Michael Bloomberg wrote in the New York Times that “banning flavored e-cigarettes is the most important thing we can do to reduce use among young people.”  Bloomberg and his co-author Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, claimed tobacco companies were “making huge investments in nicotine-loaded e-cigarettes and selling them in a rainbow of sweet and fruity flavors,” including “cotton candy” and “gummy bear.”

In January of 2020, the Food and Drug Administration announced the agency had prioritized:

enforcement against certain unauthorized flavored e-cigarette products that appeal to kids, including fruit and mint flavors. Under this policy, companies that do not cease manufacture, distribution and sale of unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes (other than tobacco or menthol) within 30 days risk FDA enforcement actions.

Were flavor bans the right approach to curb teen vaping? A new scientific survey suggests otherwise.

A recent MyVoice study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics reveals the flavoring was not the main driver for teens who use Juul or Juul-like e-cigarettes. The MyVoice study responses were collected via text-messages aimed at young people between ages 14 and 24. There were 1,129 participants.

Authors of the “Youth Perceptions of Juul in the United States,” found that a paltry 5 percent of respondents said it was the different flavors of the e-cigarettes that brought them to the product.

But if flavors do not drive teens to use e-cigarettes what good does it do to ban them?

“It’s not just about the flavors, it’s about understanding the motivations for using these products, and their attitudes toward risk,” says senior author Tammy Chang, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., an assistant professor in the department of family medicine and founder of MyVoice. “They’re more savvy than we think they are, and they’re using it because it’s about being cool and about the experimentation that happens naturally in adolescence. Reducing teen and young adult use of these products, especially under current policies, will require an evidence-based approach.”

It’s too late for “an evidence-based approach.” The Truth Initiative, an organization that claims to “inspire tobacco-free lives” brags that “By the end of 2019, 274 localities placed restrictions on flavored tobacco products, and, of those, 88 have comprehensive bans on menthol products, which are sometimes exempted from flavor policies.”

The real victims of the anti-flavor crusade are former smokers who use flavored e-cigarettes to stay away from combustible tobacco cigarettes along with current smokers who are looking for an effective way to quit smoking.

Two recent survey-based behavioral studies conducted by the Centre for Substance Use Research (CSUR), an independent, U.K.-based research center, of both retail and online customers, indicate that non-tobacco-flavored JUULpods are helping adult smokers in their switching journey from combustible cigarettes. After 90 days of JUUL use, adult smokers who primarily used Mint or Mango demonstrated the highest switch rates from combustible cigarettes, respectively.

“Flavors are an essential element of encouraging switching to vaping, and we need regulations that focus on a risk-benefit analysis rather than inadvertently perpetuating the cigarette epidemic,” said David Sweanor of the Center for Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa.

I recently wrote about the misguided campaign against flavored e-cigarettes and how there had been virtually no reduction in Juul sales following the removal of flavored products from the market.

A new study in the American Journal of Public Health reveals that after Juul stopped selling flavored pods for their vaping devices, the company saw a decline in sales but “recovered within weeks and surpassed their previous maximum in those same channels, as consumption shifted to the menthol/mint and tobacco flavors that remained on shelves.”

If flavors were truly the reason for younger people to start using e-cigarettes, we would see a reduction in sales once flavors were off the market. As this MyVoice study suggests, there was no reduction in sales because a tiny fraction of teens are vaping for the flavors. Instead, these well-funded “grassroots” efforts have led adults back to smoking with their scare tactics and put up road blocks to purchasing an effective tool for harm reduction for those looking to quit.

About the Author: Elizabeth Sheld is the senior news editor at American Greatness and author of the “Morning Greatness” news update. She is a veteran political strategist and pollster who has worked on campaigns and public interest affairs. Liz has written at Breitbart and The Federalist, as well as at PJ Media, where she wrote “The Morning Briefing.” In her spare time, she shoots sporting clays and watches documentaries. Elizabeth quit smoking with Cuttwood Vapor’s Unicorn Milk.

This article was published in Real Clear Policy on August 4, 2020.

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