This week, the Trump administration is expected to announce it will remove all e-cigarettes flavors from the market except those that taste like tobacco and menthol.
Why is this a problem?
1) Vaping has helped millions quit traditional, combustible cigarettes, which are 95 percent more harmful than e-cigarettes.
2) Former smokers prefer fruit and dessert flavored vape liquids and many former smokers are eventually able to switch to nicotine-free vape liquid. This allows them to continue the physical habits of smoking, without inhaling nicotine. By robbing these people of the flavors they enjoy, former smokers may switch back to smoking, since e-liquids will now only come in the flavors of traditional cigarettes. Listen to my podcast with former smoker Vicki Vasconcello to hear why vaping tobacco flavor (one of only three flavors available under this ban) will make it impossible for her to abstain from traditional cigarettes.
3) There seems to be no sympathy for the fact that former smokers were addicts. They are addicted to nicotine, which is a very hard habit to kick. And the traditional delicery system of that nicotine—smoking combustible cigarettes—caused terrible, life-ending diseases. Would public health consider banning a technology that helps heroine or Fentanyl addicts quit? Would the President dream of banning a safer, less toxic alcohol replacement? Of course not. Because we all seem to have sympathy for drug and alcohol abusers. Yet we treat those addicted to nicotine like they don’t need life-saving advances that can help them quit. It’s a public health tragedy.
4) Despite the Trump Administration (and Trump himself, along with the First Lady) claiming flavor bans will help reduce the number of teen vapers, this move is sure to drive both teens and former smokers to cigarettes—because what’s the point of vaping, if you can’t choose the fruit and sweet flavor you like.
5) Women especially have success quitting smoking when they use e-cigarettes versus other smoking cessation products (patches/gum). See my testimony on that subject here. By banning the flavors women prefer (fruit and dessert), this ban will be particularly harmful to women.
6) This ban will destroy the nearly 9,000 independently run vape shops around the country that employ 100,000 people, which will negatively impact the economy and will drive many to vote against Trump.
7) This move by the White House will send a chilling message to innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs. Consider the situation with Juul. The tech company created this new technology to help smokers switch to a less harmful nicotine delivery system. Yet, instead of receiving praise for this product, the company is struggling to keep up with the demands of the bureaucratic scolds at the FDA who refuse to pay attention to or even acknowledge the significant body of scientific evidence that shows e-cigarettes are safer and can help smokers quit. The message that sends to other private sector innovators: “don’t even try!”
The truth is, the vape industry is largely made up of small, individually owned businesses. And many vape shops are women-owned and/or run by former smokers. These small business owners each have compelling stores of how e-cigarettes and flavored vape liquids helped them to quit traditional cigarettes. Yet, these businesses and the thousands they employ will simply disappear because of Trump’s ban.
Sadly, Juul recently announced its plans to no longer manufacture their wildly popular (with adults!) flavor pods like mango, strawberry milk, and watermelon. Juul has received a lot of criticism for the move. The smaller manufacturers and small shop owners have called the company out for rolling over and for being traitors to the cause.
Some of this criticism is deserved but it’s also worth mentioning that it isn’t the fault of Juul for trying to maneuver (and survive!) in a totally insane regulatory environment where the agency overseeing the product is constantly moving the goal posts, is reticent to communicate its future regulatory plans, and which constantly threatens to pull every e-cigarette product from store shelves. How is a company—big or small—supposed to plan for the future, or put the R&D into new products when it’s very existence is being threatened? Why would a company feel any incentive to grow when federal regulatory agencies deem (despite overwehelming evidence to the contrary) the company’s product is dangerous and is the very cause of a health epidemic facing a generation of teens (see here why the “teen vaping epidemic” is a myth).
I’m not at all happy with Juul’s decision, but surely people can have some sympathy for a company trying to do business in a hostile environment.
For more information and history on this issue, researcher Clive Bates offers some very helpful information on the more recent regulatory history on e-cigarettes and e-flavors and what this latest move by the Trump administration will mean long term for the industry. Read his helpful blog here.