"Blow vape clouds" by Sarah Johnson licensed under CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/157551927@N08/24149790347

A new study highlights how restricting access to flavored nicotine vaping products would lead a significant number of vapers to switch back to smoking. The well-respected Addictive Behaviors Journal recently published a study examining the level of support and predictive behavioral responses to a hypothetical ban on non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes among regular adult vapers. Most notably, the study found that, if a flavor ban were to be instituted, 17.1% of vapers would stop vaping and smoke instead. 

Despite the laudable goal of improving the health of adolescents, little if any evidence is available to suggest that banning non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes would prevent young people from vaping. Additionally, restricting access to flavors has repercussions for adult vapers. The researchers noted that such restrictions could interfere with harm reduction potential for those who wish to use e-cigarettes as a cessation aid, or completely switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes.

There is, however, evidence of the failures of implementing a flavor ban. In San Francisco, a ban on flavored tobacco products coincided with a sharp rise in cigarette smoking rates among youths, more than doubling the odds of young people engaging in the deadly habit. This should concern parents and lawmakers alike as e-cigarettes have been shown to be at least 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes. Use of e-cigarettes among young adults, which should be discouraged, is clearly preferable to cigarette use. 

These distressing findings are an important reminder of the consequences of uninformed vaping policies. Lawmakers who seek to implement restrictive measures on e-cigarettes would be wise to heed the advice of the scientific community. The main findings of the study can be read below, while the full study is available here

Key Findings:

  • A ban on flavored e-cigarettes would cause 17.1% of vapers to switch back to traditional cigarettes. With 13 million vapers in the United States, this could result in 2,223,000 Americans switching from vaping to the more harmful alternatives. 
  • If a ban on flavored e-cigarettes were to be implemented, 28.3% of users “would find a way to get banned flavors,” meaning they would turn to the unsafe black market alternatives.  
  • Emphasizing the importance of vaping products as a form of smoking cessation, the researchers also found that 80% of vapers opposed banning non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes, with support being especially high among ex-smokers who have already completely switched to vaping.

Lawmakers across the country are struggling to find evidence to justify the unnecessary restrictions that have been placed on these potentially life-saving products. Recent data has shown that teenagers are not drawn to vapes because of flavors, with only 5% of underage vapers saying it was the flavors that attracted them. Additionally, academic studies have found that teenage non-smokers “willingness to try plain versus flavored varieties did not differ”. 

Previous studies have also noted that an arbitrary ban on flavored e-cigarettes would be especially detrimental to adults who are trying to quit their deadly smoking habit. One such study, published in the prestigious Nicotine & Tobacco Research journal, found that smokers who use flavored vapes to quit are 43% more likely to succeed than someone using an unflavored or tobacco-flavored vape. 

This new research represents an important step toward fully understanding the public health benefits of vaping products. Politicians need to follow the science on vaping and encourage smokers to quit cigarette use, rather than push to restrict access to products that have proven critical in getting people to quit.