Consumers have been trying to be heard by politicians for years, warning about the unintended consequences of vape flavour bans. More than two-thirds of adult vapers use non-tobacco flavours. Those using flavours are 230% more likely to quit smoking for good. Banning flavours will leave consumers with a selection of just three equally dreadful options: returning to smoking, the black market, or buying their flavours abroad. The University of Waterloo found that 45% of vapers would turn to illegal sources or start smoking cigarettes again. It would be nothing short of a public health catastrophe. Unfortunately, those who point this out are ignored by politicians and many public health officials.
According to the Truth Initiative’s research about social media behaviour, e-cigarette users published over 166,000 posts and comments on Reddit around the time the sale of many flavoured e-cigarettes was restricted by the US FDA. Truth Initiative states that “most posts were about products that were still available or alternatives that were compatible with JUUL, showing how users easily seek out alternative flavored products when faced with partial flavor restrictions. The study found that a substantial portion of the conversation on Reddit involved seeking information about evading newly enacted flavor restrictions. More than one in three such posts (39%) sought advice on disposable or refillable substitute brands, two product types that were excluded from the flavor restrictions.”
Unfortunately, their solutions are more bans and even harsher regulations. But if we think this through, it would lead to disaster. Truth Initiative admits that the first step for consumers facing partial bans is to seek out legal alternatives. So, what would happen if Truth Initiative got its way and banned those alternatives?
We can’t ban demand, so as a second step, consumers would seek alternatives on the black market, where they face a completely unregulated illicit market without quality or safety controls. In addition, they are forced to interact with criminals, shady actors, and cartels who are all happy to satisfy the demand.
Estonia banned flavours in 2020, and the result was that 60% of vapers kept using flavours by mixing their liquids or obtaining them from the illicit market. Hence, it is not a theory that people are pushed to the black market, but is already proven by reality.
Additionally, a flavour ban in San Francisco resulted in rising teenage smoking rates for the first time in decades. Again, not quite an improvement in public health. This is the remaining option for vapers who don’t want to buy their products on the black market — start smoking again.
The Truth Initiative would be better off pondering its own research results and adapting its policy recommendation accordingly, but I have little confidence in this happening.
Why do I make such a claim? I recommend reading this great article by Marc Gunther:
“To the dismay of many public health experts, Truth Initiative has become an implacable opponent of vaping, exaggerating the dangers of e-cigarettes and downplaying evidence that vaping has displaced smoking among both teens and adults.”