Ukraine is perhaps best known to Americans as a country where Hunter Biden once found gainful employment. Ukraine is riddled with scandal and ranks low on global indices, such as the World Bank’s Doing Business and the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index. Yet, Americans should also know that Ukraine has been much less interventionist than many Western countries when it comes to lifestyle freedoms. Sadly, that might soon change.
On June 1st, Ukrainian parliamentarians passed a new law that prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes in public places as well as advertising, sponsorship, and promotion of e-cigarettes. The law also bans the sale of vape and tobacco flavors. The justification for such regulations is based on the World Health Organisation’s firm—but very flawed—belief that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking, and that they are as harmful as conventional cigarettes. It is also thought that such bans will reduce underage vaping in Ukraine.
Yet, the WHO ignores the real data on vaping and the reality that banning these products might deprive millions of adult smokers in Ukraine the opportunity to switch to a safer alternative.
According to Public Health England, vaping is 95 percent less harmful than smoking. In the UK, free e-cigarettes are even offered at hospitals as a means to get people to quit smoking. Countries that have embraced vaping have seen a reduction in the number of smokers. For instance, the smoking rate in the UK is at its lowest since 1974, which some attribute to the government’s pro-consumer and pro-science approach to regulation. By turning a blind eye to this overwhelming evidence, Ukraine risks becoming an ever-expanding nanny state.
Underage vaping is unacceptable, but, contrary to what the Ukrainian government believes, banning vape flavors is not a panacea and in fact can have deleterious consequences. A study by the Yale School of Public Health found that the probability of high school students switching to smoking regular cigarettes doubles when a vape flavor ban is put in place.
Moreover, vape flavor bans aimed at curbing teen smoking end up hurting adult consumers. Flavors play a key role in helping smokers quit, as they make it possible for them to experiment and find out what works best for them. One study found that vapers who use flavors are 2.3 times more likely to quit smoking than those using tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes. Advertising is equally key since it helps distribute information about the choice to switch to a safer alternative.
Ukraine needs to enforce strict age restrictions to ensure underage consumers do not take up vaping. Vape flavor bans, advertising bans, and excise taxes, on the contrary, are anti-consumer and anti-innovation. But mostly, these restrictions meddle in people’s choices.