Oregon's New Vaping Restrictions Will Drive Kids to Smoke

Officials publicly congratulate themselves for protecting teens, but they know that they’re prodding young people to switch to cigarettes.


Are advocates of vaping restrictions the best marketers ever for traditional cigarettes? That's a logical conclusion as Gov. Kate Brown (D-Ore.) signs a bill banning the online sale of nicotine-containing vaping products to state residents—to protect the children, of course. She approved the restrictive law despite convincing evidence that limiting access to e-cigarettes drives users, especially young people, to traditional cigarettes that pose greater health risks than their high-tech counterparts.

Brown signed HB2261, the vaping-restrictions bill, with little fanfare, but last summer she insisted that "as we are facing the spread of a disease that attacks our respiratory systems, it's even more important that we take steps to protect the health and safety of Oregon's youth, who have been using vaping products at increasingly high rates."

"Despite steep declines in the rate of underage cigarette smoking, increasing e-cigarette use among teenagers is threatening years of public health progress," agreed Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum after lawmakers approved the recent law. "If we want to make real progress in lowering rates of teenage vaping, we need to close this online sales loophole."

But, as politicians eternally pretend to not understand, banning things doesn't mean that people give up on them. Instead, it drives them to legal substitutes that may pose different or greater risks, or else to black market suppliers who offer products of unknown quality and safety.

For example, San Francisco banned the sale of flavored tobacco products in 2018, including both menthol cigarettes and the wide variety of flavored vaping products. According to a 2020 study published in Addictive Behaviors Reports, the ban had little effect on the nicotine consumption of consumers aged 25-34 years old, 92 percent of whom continued their habits after the ban, though with declining use of vaping products.

But the ban had a bigger effect on those in the age 18-24 bracket in multiple ways. While 82 percent of those who used nicotine before the ban on flavored products continued to do so afterwards, the share of those who smoked traditional cigarettes rose from 27 percent to 37 percent of the total.

"[L]ocal bans can still significantly reduce overall e-cigarette use and cigar smoking but may increase cigarette smoking," concluded the researchers. 

More disturbingly, found another study from the Yale School of Public Health, "after the ban's implementation, high school students' odds of smoking conventional cigarettes doubled in San Francisco's school district relative to trends in districts without the ban, even when adjusting for individual demographics and other tobacco policies."

"These findings suggest a need for caution," commented study author Abigail Friedman, an assistant professor of health policy at YSPH. "While neither smoking cigarettes nor vaping nicotine are safe per se, the bulk of current evidence indicates substantially greater harms from smoking, which is responsible for nearly one in five adult deaths annually. Even if it is well-intentioned, a law that increases youth smoking could pose a threat to public health."

It's not just San Francisco. Legal-age limits on the purchase of e-cigarettes in general "increased youth smoking participation," according to a 2019 study published in Health Economics.

The conclusion that prodding youthful users from vaping to cigarettes is a bad idea is not controversial. 

"Studies suggest nicotine vaping may be less harmful than traditional cigarettes when people who regularly smoke switch to them as a complete replacement," advises the National Institutes of Health, which adds that "nicotine vaping could still damage your health."

"[T]here's almost no doubt that [e-cigarettes] expose you to fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes," agrees Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease.

So, policies intended to discourage vaping may have some success in doing exactly that but at the expense of shifting users to smoking. And that shift to cigarettes is especially pronounced among the young consumers who are supposed to be protected by the bans. That shouldn't be a surprise given that most teens aren't yet set in their product preferences and are already breaking the law, since the legal age to purchase tobacco products in the United States, including e-cigarettes, is 21. If they want nicotine, youthful users will take it as they can get it, and illegal sources will accommodate them.

Right now, Oregon actually has a relatively small black market in cigarettes—only 4 percent of smokes sold in the state are smuggled, according to the Mackinac Center, because it has a lower tax rate then neighboring Washington and California. But Idaho has a lower rate still, and 27 percent of the cigarettes sold there are illegally peddled out-of-state. About 12 percent of the cigarettes sold in Nevada also make their way to other states. As a result, 40 percent of the cigarettes sold in Washington and 47 percent of those sold in California are smuggled. Even without allowing for increased black-market activity in vaping products, it's a given that youthful nicotine fanciers will have little trouble purchasing cigarettes.

And, while the evidence suggests that young vapers will switch to cigarettes in response to legal restrictions, it's certainly possible that black market e-cigarette vendors could step in. Underground suppliers brought vaping cartridges containing THC to the market years ago. While extremely popular, some of them contained adulterants that caused serious respiratory problems in users. These vendors could easily meet demand after Oregon's restrictions cut off legal sources.

The evidence that black markets step in when restrictions are imposed is so strong that even some regulators acknowledge the facts. "[T]he Task Force expects there will be an increase in smuggling activity and black market sales," the Massachusetts Department of Revenue's Illegal Tobacco Task Force predicted last year of the response to new restrictions on vaping products and flavored tobacco.

Oregon is populated by people much like the residents of Massachusetts and San Francisco, and they all respond to economic forces in the same way. Even as Oregon officials publicly congratulate themselves for protecting kids from the risks of vaping, they must know that they're encouraging illegal activity and prodding young people to switch to more-dangerous cigarettes.

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  1. Since it is a well-known fact that I just made up that minorities, gays and transgendered, women, the politically, socially, and economically disadvantaged, Muslims, and Republicans smoke and vape at higher rates than the general population, it should be obvious who these restrictions are aimed at. For shame!


    1. I just Ctrl-F’ed this article and didn’t find one use of the word “equity”. This JD Tuccille must be a racist.

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    2. In these states, the job market is stacked so that those people are black. Oh, and we’re not being racist about the jobs we’ll give people like you in this red………CLICK HERE.

    3. Wait but we want Republicans to die more right? So just enforce the law against Republicans. Racism solved!

  2. “Smoke up, Johnny”!

  3. They have to keep the Cigarette Settlement money coming in. Vaping was putting a dent in that. Some of these States have borrowed money against the settlement money.

  4. The most likely conclusion that nanny authoritarians will reach is that they have to ban harder. (As if they feel the need for any justification.)

  5. Teens choose to do things based on two core criteria:

    1. Do whatever their parents tell them not to do.

    2. Do whatever their preferred peers tell them to do (usually derived from 1).

    To stop teens from smoking or vaping, just have annoying mom and stodgy dad vape more and tell the kids its good for them.

  6. Try to encourage responsible behavior, and then the kids will do what they want anyway.

  7. Good and hard.

  8. Good. Smoking decreases their chances of dying from COVID.

    1. There actually were some early studies from the beginning of the pandemic that current smokers/vapers were less likely to get COVID, suggesting that nicotine may have a protective effect-the Economist even had a short article about it but I can’t find it right now. Meanwhile, all the right-thinking experts tried very hard to link tobacco and nicotine to COVID, but the science just wasn’t there-not that that’s ever stopped them

  9. Odd. Kids were smoking before there was vaping for the government to ban. Smoking a lot more than they do now, by the way.

    1. All the anti smoking “deterrents” are designed by people who were too fucking square to smoke when they were kids.

  10. It’s really bizarre how of all the things progs have been trained to hate (guns, Trump voters, white people) nothing gets them more riled up than a freakin’ drug that is generally safe except for being addictive.

  11. The article proceeds as if there’s still some danger to vaping. What is it?

    1. The danger is that it looks like smoking and people enjoy it. Therefore it is not to be tolerated

  12. I fucking hate anti-smokers.

  13. Alors, quelle surprise! As the pandemic and its attendant restrictions wind down, Vape bans re-emerge as a thing!! Say, is anyone out there still using plastic straws?

    1. I use plastic straws whenever possible. I hate turtles.

  14. I didn’t expect a pure fiction article here today. Pretty strained logic, but not as outrageous as some of the comments. “I really fucking hate anti-smokers!” Not the worst of the bunch however.

    1. Can you be more constructive with your criticism please?

  15. Where I live they introduced a 40% tax on vape, to increase to 80% over 4 years. I’m pretty sure I smell tobacco smoke way more now that we are up to the 50% mark.

  16. Poor parenting drives kids to smoking.

  17. Cops Tased and Beat Teens While Enforcing a Local Vaping Ban

    Then the cops will just beat the shit out of them – problem solved, problem staying solved. Rangers lead the way.

  18. I heard USPS would no longer ship vaping products and that UPS and FedEx followed suit. If so how are these “online” getting to consumers?

  19. Vaping has not been around long enough to display long term side effects, except for those who chain vape. Chain vapers are dying in the hospitals with clogged lungs, much like the coal miners who got black lung. The condensed gasses condense in the lungs and if not coughed out in mucus, clog up the bronchi, the same way that the stuff that makes up air pollution of suspended ultra fine partials does. The net result is that the foolish die earlier.

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