In January, the Food and Drug Administration finalized its policy on flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes, saying that companies must stop all manufacturing of these particular devices. Flavored e-liquid will still be available for tank-based e-cigarettes. As with any new regulation, there will be winners and losers, but you may be surprised by who falls into each category.
Winner: Big Tobacco
Tobacco companies are threatened by the popularity of e-cigarettes because the vaping industry has cut into their profits. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show cigarette smoking is at its lowest point ever with only 14 % of adults in the U.S. smoking traditional cigarettes in 2017, down from 15.5 % in 2016.
While vaping, which is 95 % less harmful than smoking, has risen both among adults and teens, smoking rates continue to plummet. In fact, teen smoking continued to decline after e-cigarettes entered the market. In banning cartridge-based e-cigarettes, policymakers are effectively limiting access to the biggest competition to cigarettes. That’s a win for tobacco companies.
Many people see vaping as simply a high-tech way to smoke and worry there haven’t been enough safety studies despite more than a decade of reassuring research.
When an outbreak of lung diseases emerged in 2019, public health officials and the media were eager to stoke fears. Without waiting for evidence, they blamed vaping and sought to strictly limit all vaping products. The assumption that vaping was the cause was understandable early on, since patients reported vaping prior to becoming sick.
Yet, even after it was clear that it wasn’t vaping itself, but what was being vaped (illegally obtained, contaminated THC vape liquid, which the CDC eventually found caused the lung diseases), officials continued to beat the alarmist drum about the device itself. That’s akin to trying to outlaw hypodermic needles because of a spike in heroin deaths. What’s worse, former smokers were told to stop vaping until an investigation was completed, making them vulnerable to returning to traditional smoking.
The harm from this misinformation campaign lingers today. Many Americans continue to believe that vaping itself caused the lung diseases, and are therefore making poor choices about what’s best for their health.
Of course, everyone wishes that teens didn’t like to experiment. And while today’s “generation sensible” has been praised for eschewing such Fast Times-like behaviors as drinking, smoking, drugs and casual sex, the illegal act of teen vaping is popular with this demographic. Yet, teens prefer the very type of e-cigarette the FDA just banned. So, it might follow that banning these e-cigarettes will reduce vaping among teens.
But that logic misses an important factor: teens are already breaking the law to vape. Why wouldn’t they turn to the black market to get the flavor and vape device they prefer? And, couldn’t it be that further restricting the availability of vaping products would encourage teens to experiment with more dangerous substances?
Losers: Adult Smokers
Adult nicotine addicts seem to be the red-headed stepchild to public health officials. According to a large, randomized study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, e-cigarettes were twice as effective as other nicotine-replacement therapies at helping smokers quit. Considering this, one might consider e-cigarettes a public health win.
Yet, instead of rejoicing, public health officials ignore this tremendous progress and focused, almost exclusively, on the very low number (around 5.7 %) of teens who illegally vape habitually. While it’s certainly a worthy goal to formulate policies to help reduce the already small number of teen vapers, the solution shouldn’t be to harm adult smokers.
This FDA’s action may result in harm to both teens who are experimenting and adults who are trying to quit smoking. A better solution is for public health officials and the media to provide accurate information to a worried public about the real and relative health risks of vaping and for the FDA to strengthen enforcement efforts against black-market sales of e-cigarettes.
That’s a way to create more winners.
Julie Gunlock directs the Center for Progress and Innovation at the Independent Women’s Forum. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.