On March 23, 2021, U.S. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) and Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) led a call by forty-four Democratic members of Congress, urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to “prioritize the need to protect youth from nicotine and tobacco products”.
This letter follows a previous one, authored a month earlier by a bipartisan group of seven members of Congress, calling on the FDA to focus on “reducing nicotine addiction”, and “preventing tobacco-caused diseases like cancer and heart disease”.
As the FDA conducts science-based reviews of e-cigarettes and other vaping products, Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s coalition demanded the FDA remove all flavored vaping products from the market and deny future applications for any flavored vaping products – no matter what the evidence may be, or what the FDA’s review process may hold.
Both of these letters included commonly accepted myths and blatant misinformation about e-cigarettes. As such, it is vital that the truth be shared. Let’s take a look at some of the claims.
Claim: “Flavored e-cigarettes are putting a new generation of kids at risk of nicotine addiction and the serious health harms that result from tobacco use. And these products are widely available and popular with kids.”
Truth: Academic studies have shown that teenage non-smokers “willingness to try plain versus flavored varieties (of e-cigarettes) did not differ”. San Francisco has already implemented a flavor ban, the same policy promoted in the Congressional letter, and it has had no impact on usage among youths. Rather, youth cigarette usage has increased after nearly a decade of steady decrease in youth smoking rates.
It is dangerously misleading to state that e-cigarette users are subject to the “serious health harms that result from tobacco use”. E-cigarettes are proven to be 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes and over 30 of the world’s leading health organizations have determined that e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes and an effective way to help smokers quit.
Claim: “Unfortunately, the vast majority of these tobacco products that are undergoing premarket review have already been on the market for several years with observable negative consequences for public health.”
Truth: There have not been observable negative consequences for public health due to nicotine-containing e-cigarettes. The health issues that are misleadingly referenced here have been proven to be caused by illicit, black-market tetrahydrocannabinol vapes laced with Vitamin E Acetate. These products use THC, derived from marijuana, and are not the same as e-cigarettes and vapor products that have nicotine.
Therefore, it is vital that e-cigarettes and vapor products be reviewed by the FDA to ensure their safety, and the safety of consumers. By urging the FDA to not authorize, or consider applications of, flavored vapes, Congressional Democrats are disregarding the science that clearly shows that vaping-induced illnesses are caused by black-market products.
If these Representatives get their way, all flavored e-cigarettes and vapor products would be removed from the market, undoubtedly creating a flourishing black-market for flavored nicotine vapes. Like the market that exists for illicit THC vapes, these products would not be subject to any regulation or safety inspections. This would have incredibly dangerous ramifications including increased access for youths. Criminals, by definition, do not follow the law and would not follow rigorous age-verification requirements mandated at reputable vape shops.
There have actually been observable positive effects on public health. Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz and her colleagues conveniently ignored the overwhelming evidence that flavored vaping products are essential to adult smoking cessation.
A recent study performed by ten of the world’s leading experts in cancer prevention and public health determined that adults who use flavored vapes are 43% more likely to quit smoking cigarettes than those who use tobacco-flavored or unflavored vapes.
Claim: “It’s time we recognize smoking for what it is – our country’s longest running and deadliest epidemic – and treat it with a commensurate sense of urgency.”
Truth: This claim is absolutely true. Cigarette smoking is responsible for nearly 500,000 American deaths a year and approximately $170 billion a year in healthcare costs, with more than 60% of those costs are paid for through government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. However, e-cigarettes are not a tobacco product and do not contain the deadly carcinogens, chemicals, and tar that exist in traditional cigarettes. Vaping has been proven to be more than twice as effective at helping smokers quit combustible cigarettes than traditional nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine patches or gum.
An analysis by Public Health England showed that in just one year, over 50,000 British smokers quit vaping, who would have continued smoking otherwise. Proportional to the United States, that would be over 290,000 American smokers who could quit cigarette use in one year. Scare tactics, like those included in these letters, misguide the public about the potential benefits that adult smokers can gain by switching to e-cigarettes.
The FDA’s statutory standard for authorizing new tobacco products mandates that such products be “appropriate for the protection of public health”. The evidence is clear that e-cigarettes and vapor products have positive health benefits for adult cigarette smokers and a de-facto flavor ban, like the one encouraged by Wasserman Schultz’s coalition, would lead to more adults smoking – and dying from – traditional combustible cigarettes.