At a Senate hearing last month, Jay Rockefeller noted that electronic cigarette fluid is available in a wide variety of flavors—conclusive evidence, to his mind, that e-cigarette companies want to hook children on nicotine. "I am an adult," the West Virginia Democrat said. "Would I be attracted to Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, Vanilla Dreams? No, I wouldn't."
Call it the Rockefeller Rule: If an e-cigarette flavor does not appeal to this particular 77-year-old senator, it could not possibly appeal to anyone older than 17. Rebutting that claim, Jason Healy, founder and president of Blu eCigs, cited a customer survey that found "the average age of a cherry smoker is in the high 40s." Survey results released last Thursday by E-Cigarette Forum, an online gathering spot for vaping enthusiasts, reinforce Healy's point, showing that grownups prefer the flavors that Rockefeller insists are strictly for kids.
The survey, conducted in late June and early July, included more than 10,000 members of E-Cigarette Forum, 78 percent of whom live in the United States. Their ages ranged from 18 to "65 and over," with 74 percent between 22 and 54. When they were asked which flavor they used most, 22 percent said tobacco, while an additional 3 percent said menthol tobacco. In other words, three-quarters of these adult vapers favor flavors other than tobacco, including fruit (31 percent), bakery/dessert (19 percent), and savory/spice (5 percent).
That make sense, because the proliferation of flavors—The New York Times reports that "more than 7,000 flavors are now available and, by one estimate, nearly 250 more are being introduced every month"—is especially evident among vapers who, like most of the participants in this survey, use devices with refillable tanks, rather than e-cigarettes that are either entirely disposable or take disposable cartridges. Refillable vaporizers, available mainly online or in specialized outlets, are less likely to interest teenagers than the cheaper "cigalikes" sold in supermarkets and convenience stores.
The new survey also provides further evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit, a proposition that Rockefeller and other critics question. Eighty-nine percent of the respondents reported that they had smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day before they started vaping, and 88 percent said they were not currently smokers.
Those findings are similar to the results of another survey focusing on people who participate in online vaping forums, reported last April in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. That study, which included more than 19,000 vapers from around the world, found that almost all of them (99.5 percent) were smokers when they started vaping. Four-fifths of them had stopped smoking completely, while the rest had reduced their cigarette consumption, on average, from 20 to four per day.
It should be emphasized that neither of these studies was designed to capture a representative sample of all vapers. Instead they focus on the most enthusiastic among them, whom you would expect to have had especially satisfying experiences with e-cigarettes. The high success rates in these surveys therefore are unlikely to be seen among the broader group of smokers who try to quit with e-cigarettes, let alone among smokers who merely try the product out. But these surveys do indicate that e-cigarettes have helped many smokers quit.
It borders on bizarre that critics like Rockefeller continue to question the existence of those former smokers, even while arguing that e-cigarettes should be restricted or banned based on the entirely hypothetical risk that vaping will lead to smoking among teenagers who otherwise never would have tried tobacco. But what do you expect from a politician who thinks a sample of one—himself—is perfectly adequate to reach sweeping conclusions about a product's intended use?
Notably, two-thirds of the ex-smokers in the E-Cigarette Forum survey said nontobacco flavors were important in helping them quit. Survey data reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health last December likewise indicate that flavor variety is important in quitting. That study, which involved about 4,500 vapers, found that they tended to prefer tobacco-flavored fluid initially but later switched to other flavors. Most reported using more than one flavor on a daily basis and said the variety made the experience more interesting and enjoyable.
Nontobacco flavors may assist in quitting because learning to associate your nicotine fix with a new taste creates an additional barrier to backsliding: Returning to conventional cigarettes would mean getting used to the flavor of tobacco smoke again. Alternatively, the flavor of tobacco may trigger an urge to smoke.
More than nine out of 10 vapers in the E-Cigarette Forum survey said they worried that government regulations demanded by save-the-children alarmists like Rockefeller will remove products they use from the market. It's not hard to see why. "Why in heaven's name are you going ahead and marketing these things and selling these things?" Rockefeller asked Healy and another e-cigarette executive during last month's hearing. "I don't know how you go to sleep at night.…You're what's wrong with this country."
Rockefeller's research methods begin and end with his own prejudices. The Food and Drug Administration, in deciding how to regulate e-cigarettes, should aspire to higher standards.
This article originally appeared at Forbes.