Photo by Craig Marolf

Public health in California is about to take a massive turn for the worse. Tomorrow, December 21st, the state’s ban on flavored tobacco products and e-cigarettes will go into effect. Evidence from cities and states where flavor bans have been implemented show California’s law will lead to increases in smoking and devastating losses to state tax revenue.

The largest consequence of California’s flavor ban will be the harm it inflicts on people who rely on vaping products to stay off deadly cigarettes. Vaping is proven 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes because the products create a vapor from nicotine liquid, a chemical process that provides users with the nicotine they crave without subjecting them to the thousands of carcinogenic substances present in cigarettes. The Cochrane Review, considered the gold-standard of medical meta-analysis, has found “high certainty evidence” that e-cigarettes are more effective than other nicotine replacements at getting those who smoke to quit and flavored vaping products are significantly more effective at helping people achieve complete cessation than the unflavored products still allowed in California.

Without access to flavored vapes, many Californians who use the products will either turn to the illicit market or return to, and in some cases initiate, cigarette smoking. In-state evidence from San Francisco illustrates the dangerous nature of flavor prohibitions. Before San Francisco banned flavored e-cigarettes in 2018, the city had lower youth smoking rates than comparable cities like Los Angeles and New York. Following the ban, a Yale University study found that youth smoking more than doubled, rising to 6.2%, while comparable cities saw their youth smoking rates continue a decades-long decline to 2.8%. Implementing this law, which is proven to have harmful effects, at the state level can be expected to increase youth smoking drastically.

While some people may turn to cigarettes, others will seek out illicit products. This will also come with severe consequences for California. Prohibiting popular adult-use products does not reduce demand for the product, it simply creates a thriving illicit market. This will deprive California of precious tax revenue that the state uses to fund healthcare programs including Medicaid.

The lost tax revenue is expected to be significant, with the state estimating a loss of $218 million annually. This estimate is low, with evidence from Massachusetts indicating the number is likely to be closer to 400 million. Massachusetts has lost over $10 million a month ($120 million annually) in excise tax revenue to neighboring states following the implementation of an identical flavor ban in 2019. Massachusetts’ tobacco tax revenue ($537 million annually) is less than a third of California’s ($1.7 billion annually), meaning California is likely to lose out on at least three times as much tax revenue as Massachusetts.

Worsening these concerns are the presence of the southern border and shipping ports that criminal cartels will use to smuggle illicit tobacco and nicotine products into California. Organized crime syndicates already smuggle tobacco products into America and California’s 145-mile portion of the U.S.-Mexico border is the principal drug smuggling corridor for illicit drugs entering the country through Mexico. California will further be infiltrated by these groups as they expand their operations to meet the demand for flavored tobacco.

California’s flavor ban extends to menthol cigarettes, a policy that will exacerbate criminal justice issues and unjust policing. An ATR op-ed in RealClearPolicy provides a more detailed look at menthol bans and their consequences.

With California facing a $25 billion budget deficit, this misguided, anti-science prohibition on flavored tobacco and vaping products will worsen economic matters in the state while also doing a great deal of harm to public health. As a result of this law, the state will be forced to backfill healthcare and Medicaid funding from other sources, heightening budget issues and depriving other state programs of funding, all while more people smoke cigarettes, develop smoking-related diseases and cancers, and ultimately die. Flavor bans cost lives and California’s will be no exception.