Lawmakers in the Aloha State are once again attempting to address the so-called youth vaping epidemic, with over a dozen bills being introduced in the 2023 legislative session that range from taxing alternatives to cigarettes to outright bans of flavored tobacco and vapor products.
Recently, lawmakers discussed legislation that would impose an excise tax on vapor products, as well as another bill that would ban flavored tobacco and vape products—including flavored cigars, menthol cigarettes, and flavored smokeless products.
While addressing youth use of any age-restricted adult consumer good is laudable, bans and excessive taxes on harm reduction products punish adults who have used vapor products, and other less harmful alternatives, to quit smoking. Further, flavor bans ignore both the reductions in youth use of e-cigarettes (and all tobacco products), as well as why youth are using the products in the first place.
According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), in 2022, among U.S. middle and high school students, less than one in 10 (9.4%) reported current use of e-cigarettes, defined as having used the product on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior. This is a 53% reduction from 2019 when one-fifth (20%) were currently using e-cigarettes.
Unfortunately, as seen in a recent committee hearing in Hawaii, e-cigarette opponent organizations (many funded by Michael Bloomberg) continue to confuse lawmakers and rely on the COVID-19 pandemic as a cause for the reductions.
For example, an executive director with the American Lung Association rebutted our testimony in this week’s hearing, claiming “tobacco companies” were “harping [at the NYTS reduction] … to confuse lawmakers.” Notably, the ALA representative claimed that the reduction was simply “not true.”
Yet, there has been a reduction. According to the NYTS, youth vaping declined to 13.1% in 2020, 7.6% in 2021, and then increased slightly to 9.4% in 2022—two years after the global pandemic was declared and when most (if not all) school children had returned back to the classroom.
But what is even more damning is that the same opponent organizations refuse to acknowledge the same survey data that indicate the reasons why youth are using e-cigarettes.
According to the 2021 NYTS, among U.S. middle and high school students that were currently using e-cigarettes, nearly half (43.4%) reported using them because they were feeling “anxious, stressed [and/or] depressed,” compared to only 13.2% who reported using them because they’re available in flavors.
Clearly, youth are self-medicating with these novel devices, and if lawmakers truly want to address youth use of e-cigarettes, they need to understand that flavors are not the reason youth use these products. Even in Hawaii, in 2017, only 26.4% of high schoolers reported using e-cigarettes because they were available in flavors, compared to 38.9% who cited “other” as a reason for use.
Again, addressing youth use of age-restricted products is laudable, but adults shouldn’t be unfairly punished due to continued alarmism stoked by organizations being funded by a nanny state billionaire. Lawmakers in Hawaii (and other states) lawmakers should refrain from both imposing sin taxes and prohibitions on alternatives to cigarettes.
Read Lindsey’s full testimony before the Hawaii House Committee on Consumer Protection & Commerce on the taxation of electronic cigarettes HERE and on the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products HERE and watch the video below.