Studies: Flavored vape bans push youth to cigarettes

Vaping has been proven to be a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. While Lansing pushes a series of bills to limit vaping products, including flavored vapes to keep them out of the hands of high school students, studies show that flavor bans and tight regulations instead push kids to cigarettes. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo)

According to a report by Bloomberg Philanthropies, more than five million U.S. high school students are now using e-cigarettes, an increase of 135% from 2017. Vaping, the report asserts, has exploded into a national crisis, and tobacco companies are helping to fuel it by targeting kids with flavors such as gummy bear and cotton candy; 83% of e-cigarette users use the flavored varieties.

The report goes on to say that Protect Kids is a three-year, $160 million program led by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to “combat this epidemic and push leaders to act.” The only drawback to the Bloomberg Philanthropies report is — it isn’t science-based.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Bloomberg Philanthropies used its money and influence to curb vaping, but others who have worked for decades to reduce deaths from smoking say the ongoing campaign against e-cigarettes is misguided, built on unsound science, and likely to do more harm than good.

In March 2021, The Chronicle of Philanthropy published a report, written by Marc Gunther, charging that Bloomberg Philanthropies’ ongoing campaign against e-cigarettes is misguided, built on unsound science and likely to do more harm than good.

“Michael Bloomberg has done great things for public health,” Kenneth Warner is quoted as saying in Gunther’s report, “but he is way off base on this.”

Warner is a founding board member of the Truth Initiative, the nonprofit public-health organization committed to ending tobacco use. Warner has also been the president of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, the senior scientific editor of the 25th-anniversary Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, and the dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.

Critics of the Bloomberg campaign argue that while e-cigarettes and combustible tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc.) both contain nicotine, e-cigarettes are much less dangerous than smoking.

Vaping appeals to smokers who want to quit smoking but need a nicotine fix, Gunther reported. So, while no one wants teenagers to vape, removing flavored e-cigarettes from the market deprives adult smokers a popular, safer alternative.

Worse, wrote Gunther, that critics say that by exaggerating the dangers of e-cigarettes, Bloomberg, Myers and their allies have inadvertently given people a reason to smoke. An October 17, 2023, Yale School of Public Health report concurs.

“The immense popularity of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, among young people has led many policymakers to restrict the sale of flavored varieties,” the report states. “But rather than nudging people away from ‘vapes,’ as these e-cigarettes are called, such measures could backfire by driving users to instead buy conventional cigarettes, a much more dangerous product, according to researchers at the Yale School of Public Health.”

The report also states that on a large scale, long-term analysis of policies and sales data, the researchers found that for every 0.7 milliliters of “e-liquid” (the consumable content inside e-cigarettes, also known as vape juice) that goes unsold due to flavor restrictions, 15 additional traditional cigarettes are sold. The substitution was especially evident among cigarette brands popular with young people aged 20 and under, suggesting that flavor restrictions may increase smoking among youth as well as adults.

The study also found that where e-cigarette flavor restrictions had been in effect for at least a year, sales of cigarette brands favored by adults went up by 10%, while sales of cigarette brands that disproportionately attract underage smokers saw a 20% bump.

The Yale report came to the same conclusion as Kenneth Warner, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy report:

“In light of these results,” the Yale report states, “policymakers might want to consider other approaches to protect public health where tobacco is concerned.”

The research for the Yale study was funded by National Institutes of Health awards from the National Cancer Institute and Food and Drug Administration, as well as the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


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