Restricting E-Cigarette Flavors Endangers Public Health

The FDA's decree will make vaping less appealing and less accessible to smokers interested in switching.


Critics of the vaping industry portray the flavors that the Food and Drug Administration wants to ban from stores that admit minors as evidence of a conspiracy to hook the youth of America on nicotine. The FDA itself has a more sophisticated understanding of the market but is still far too willing to sacrifice the interests of adult smokers in the name of fighting an "epidemic" of underage e-cigarette use.

"We recognize [e-cigarettes] as a viable alternative for adult smokers who want to get access to satisfying levels of nicotine without all the harmful effects of combustion," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC last month. "If we could switch every adult smoker to an e-cigarette, it would have a profound public health impact."

That's because vaping is far less hazardous than smoking—on the order of 95 percent less hazardous, according to an estimate endorsed by Public Health England. Gottlieb is therefore on solid ground when he says, as he did in a speech last September, that "the public health impact" of switching smokers to safer sources of nicotine "can dwarf anything else we're able to accomplish in any reasonable stretch of time."

It follows that making e-cigarettes less appealing and less accessible has a public health cost, measured in smoking-related diseases and deaths that otherwise would not have occurred. Yet that is what the FDA's new restrictions on e-cigarettes, which limit the flavor options in most stores to menthol, mint, and tobacco, will do.

Rather than enforce the minimum purchase age, which is 18 under federal law and higher in some states, the FDA is decreeing that the flavors teenagers tend to prefer can be sold only by vape shops, tobacconists, and online outlets with age verification. That rule is akin to prohibiting supermarkets and convenience stores from selling Mike's Hard Lemonade or Jack Daniel's Country Cocktails because you're worried that some cashiers will fail to card people who buy them.

In both cases, we are talking about products that are indisputably popular among adults, even while they may also be popular among teenagers. In a recently completed online survey of more than 69,000 adult vapers, just 16 percent identified tobacco, menthol, or mint as flavors they used most often; the vast majority preferred supposedly juvenile fruit and dessert flavors.

A recent survey by the website Vaping360 focused on Juul, which is the leading e-cigarette brand in the U.S., accounting for more than 70 percent of the market. Mango was the most popular flavor by far, named by nearly half of the respondents.

Yet the industry's detractors see fruit flavors as inherently suspect. The New York Times reports that "health advocates point to the packaging and youth appeal of a variety of flavors, including chicken and waffles, rocket Popsicle and unicorn milk as well as fruity tastes like mango."

The choice of examples is revealing, and not just because adult vapers demonstrably enjoy "fruity tastes like mango." The other flavors cited by the Times are produced by companies that make e-liquid for "open" vaping systems, the refillable, customizable rigs that represent a small share of the market and according to the FDA are not favored by teenagers.

Surveys of former smokers find that flavor variety plays an important role in the process of switching to vaping. The FDA itself has acknowledged "the role that flavors…may play in helping some smokers switch to potentially less harmful forms of nicotine delivery."

It is hardly a leap to suggest that sharply limiting flavor variety in the vast majority of retail outlets will make some smokers less likely to switch—a point that Gottlieb acknowledges. "In order to close the on-ramp to e-cigarettes for kids," he told the Times, "we have to put in place some speed bumps for adults."

But why should adult smokers pay, potentially with their lives, for the carelessness of convenience store clerks? The moral logic of the tradeoff demanded by the FDA escapes me.

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Can someone explain to me the anti-tobacco bent of the Truth campaign? They have become obnoxious over vaping and nicotine.

    If the primary issue was lung disease, vaping should be a good thing, but now, their commercials are focused on destroying it. It makes me think it has nothing to do with health but destroying the entire industry.

    1. I can explain it to you….PEOPLE ARE FUCKING STUPID. To them, nicotine is the chemical that gives you lung and heart disease, cancer, etc. It s so much easier to just villainize something you know nothing about than it is to actually educate people.

      1. But not all vapes even contain nicotine!

      2. Truth was originally funded by the 1998 MSA. so their income depends on the sale of traditional cigarettes. This could explain why they have now turned against vaping. Also, much of tobacco control is funded by the pharma industry, who doesn’t want any competition for the smoking cessation market. Somehow, their nicotine gums, patches, and drugs with nasty side effects are OK, but nobody is allowed to make quitting smoking enjoyable.

        1. That’s enlightening.

        2. nobody is allowed to make quitting smoking enjoyable

          This is it exactly. Promoting better health has long since ceased to be the priority of the anti-smoking jihad. The neo-puritans absolutely hate the thought of anyone finding any pleasure in acts they have deemed unclean. Gum, patches and pills are acceptable, laudable even, precisely because they’re no fun. But people actually enjoy vaping, so it’s anathema to the crusaders. If they can’t ban it outright, they’ll do everything they can to make it less appealing and enjoyable. No flavors for you, unrighteous ones! The fact that this might actually reduce health benefits is utterly irrelevant to their self-righteous satisfaction.

          (Just for the record, I quit smoking years ago, and I’ve never vaped and don’t plan to start. I still despise nicotine nazis with a fiery, burning passion.)

  2. Other than the fact that government should have no right to forbid anyone from putting whatever product into their body that they wish (regardless of age), is this really an issue? As an on-again, off-again vaper, I cannot currently walk into any convenience store and buy my vaping juice. Sure, they may sell those pre-fab cartridges, but does anyone truly use those? Every single person that I know that vapes use juice. These rules will not affect me whatsoever, but that still does not make them right.

  3. “We recognize [e-cigarettes] as a viable alternative for adult smokers who want to get access to satisfying levels of nicotine without all the harmful effects of combustion,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC last month. “If we could switch every adult smoker to an e-cigarette, it would have a profound public health impact.”

    And yet you’re still going to do your best to obstruct smokers’ access to this product because you refuse to accept trade-offs and cost/benefit analyses as a legitimate limit on the power of Government Almighty. If the government decrees something shall be banned, banned it shall be. Doesn’t matter if it’s nicotine or alcohol or marijuana or guns or carbon dioxide – it’s heresy to suggest the power of government is less than absolute.

    1. No, they do accept cost-benefit analysis. It’s just that the values they assign to the costs & the benefits are way out of wack. Basically, the benefit of recreational psychoactives or flavors is assigned a value of practically 0; the prevention of smoking-related diseases is assigned a small value; but the cost of having someone “hooked” on a product is assigned an enormous value.

      1. having someone “hooked” on a product is assigned an enormous value

        Still waiting for them to go after caffeine and ban Starbucks from selling flavored lattes

        1. Don’t give them ideas.

  4. Without getting into the merits and or benefits of vaping versus combustible cigarettes, what I find absolutely fascinating is this: The smokers I work with who switched to vaping have gone back to smoking cigarettes. ALL of them. Without exception. It might have taken a few months or a few years, but all of them have quit the vape and are back on the fags. I have watched this happen with mild curiosity for five years now. For me, vaping is a poor substitute for smoking tobacco. I’ll take the real thing, please. There is too much focus on nicotine as a source of addiction, when in fact, it plays a much smaller role in the “habit of smoking.” If anyone wants to quit smoking, they have to change their habits associated with smoking. The nicotine in tobacco is nice, but the act of smoking, the ritual of it, the pure enjoyment and relaxation we get from smoking is nicer. Vaping doesn’t quite get there by comparison… for me, at least.

  5. It is not the job of the FDA to make America lives better and more healthy.
    it is the job of the FDA to grab as much of the American taxpayers’ money as possible, take as much vacation time as they can, count down the number of days before the retire, take an eight hour nap at work, write incomprehensible and contradictory rules, regulations and laws so nothing can get down or be improved.
    I don’t know why this is so hard to understand.
    We’ve been over it hundreds of times.

  6. Most early vapers used to mix their own e-juice. So ban all the flavored products you want, FDA, flavors will then just be sold as an add-in like they used to be (and still are). Then, good luck trying to ban a stand-alone Flavoring product. Assholes.

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